Counterculture

Rob Garbutt, Jacqueline Dutton, Johanna Kijas

Abstract


What does counterculture do? This is the question we asked ourselves repeatedly in curating this issue for M/C Journal.

While incredible examples of countercultural lives—collective and individual—were described in articles we received, what we have tried to do is bring together research on how counterculture is both theorised and practised in local and international contexts.

At the heart of this issue is a two-day conference in May 2013 titled “Aquarius and Beyond: 40 years on…” (Southern Cross University) that marked the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival, held in the northern NSW village of Nimbin. The Festival was one of, if not the, defining countercultural event in Australia. The editors met at the 2013 conference and hatched the countercultural plan to continue working together on publishing interdisciplinary scholarship on the subject. The project grew to encompass wider interpretations of the counterculture.

Given this history of this M/C Journal issue, we have taken a particular stance on counterculture. While some authors point to the importance of conceptualising counterculture without a specific reference to context (for example Grossberg; Parsons), in this issue we have deliberately infused the need for a conceptual focus with empirical content that derives from the global countercultural phenomena of the 1960s and 1970s (for example Roszak; Smith and Crossley). That said, we do not want to confine explorations of the counterculture to that period, nor do we want to leave the concept behind, but we are interested in that specific structure of feeling we now generally associate with the term.

Rob Garbutt expands these thoughts in his opening article by briefly surveying the idea of counterculture, before reading a specific instance of the counterculture—the 1973 Nimbin Aquarius Festival—through that literature and with the addition of Esposito’s twinned conceptualisation of immunitas and communitas.

We then continue with theoretical perspectives on counterculture. Patrick Williams and Erik Hannerz write about the distinction between counterculture and subcultures, positing the ongoing oppositional element as the distinguishing feature that serves to draw both of these concepts together. Thomas Sutherland then poses a challenge to counterculture as capitalism’s stooge.

The next two papers take aim at mainstream practices of consumption and science. Peter Sampson challenges some contemporary notions that view counterculture in terms of fluid and temporary coalitions by proposing a holistic, all-of-life approach that draws on monasticism as a counter to consuming cultures. Dan McQuillan then argues for more democratised models of citizen science. McQuillan draws on the 1970s Science for the People movement that was seeded by a rebellion of young physicists against the role of US science in the Vietnam War, as well the potential of contemporary citizen science to take an alternative engagement with mainstream science.

The largest group of papers in this issue locate themselves firmly in the “Rainbow Region” of northern NSW, the region that is focused on Australia’s “countercultural capital”, Nimbin (Australian Broadcasting Commission). Victor Marsh starts this historically ordered set of articles by taking his personal experience of the 1971 and 1973 Aquarius Festivals in order to reflect on counterculture as a meme-cluster. Next, Alethea Scantlebury investigates claims that the 1973 Aquarius Festival was “the first event in Australian history that sought permission for the use of the land from the Traditional Owners”.

The aftermath of the Festival was marked by an influx of “new settlers”, some of whom sought to develop communal forms of property ownership. John Page unpacks ideas of “Aquarian property” through tracing emergent property theory in the 1960s and 1970s, and the practices these theories engendered. Jacqueline Dutton then explores the view of Nimbin in 1973 from the emerging tourist destination of nearby Byron Bay. Dutton uses the alternative media publication The Byron Express as her source material and a counterculturally-refracted reading of utopia as her theoretical lens. Yvonne Hartman and Sandy Darab then close this set of papers by bringing the threads of the Rainbow Region counterculture into the present. They examine the interconnections between counterculture, the mainstream and social movements during recent successful environmental activism against Coal Seam Gas through that ubiquitous rural gesture of “the wave”.

We follow these papers which are themed on an instance of rural counterculture with one on permaculture, which is typically associated with the “back to the land movement”. Here Alexandra Lara Crosby, Jacquie Lorber-Kasunic and Ilaria Vanni Accarigi argue that a shift is required in understanding permaculture—practices for living a sustainable life. This move is from that historical view mentioned above to a contemporary contrapuntal reading of permaculture as an assemblage and global network of practices.

The next three papers focus on various forms of media. The counterculture of the 60s and 70s had strong atavistic tendencies where practices from former “simpler” times were resurrected as a simpler-living antidote to alienating technocracy (Roszak). Rosanna Hunt and Michelle Phillipov find these same connections in the contemporary popularisation of the “nanna” as a countercultural icon, specifically in examples drawn from “nanna-style” cookbooks and Frankie magazine. Ingo Petzke then traces the development of the counterculture in Sydney through a biographical telling of film director Phillip Noyce’s beginnings in experimental cinema. Finally, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the commencement of Australian youth-oriented radio station 2JJ (now 2JJJ), Cathy Hope and Bethany Turner chart the station’s countercultural orientation. While it was very much situated in the mainstream as part of the government-owned Australian Broadcasting Commission, “Double Jay” was able to tap into and reflect youth-based aspects of the counterculture in 1970s Australia.

Our “counterculture” issue closes with Mario George Rodriguez’s paper on his experience of and reflections on Burning Man, a large festival set in the Nevada Desert. This festival claims countercultural status but to what extent, Rodriguez asks, is this the case today?

We felt that Rodriguez’s paper was a fitting close to the issue as it gives expression to ongoing questions of the relevance of “counterculture”. As Bennett has noted, counterculture can be questioned for being theoretically vague and therefore not useful for cultural analysis (25). In other analyses it is pigeon-holed as a failed youthful experiment in that decade between the mid-’60s and the mid-’70s (Nelson 8). Yet despite this, the idea of counterculture lives on in the popular imagination, and as the authors in this issue demonstrate, has much to offer scholars in their inquiries into past and contemporary cultures, and in considerations of global futures.

As editors, we would like to especially thank all the authors in, and reviewers of, this issue. We also sincerely thank the M/C Journal team for providing an accessible venue for scholarship, and Axel Bruns for his patient and generous support of new research.

References

Australian Broadcasting Commission. "Fire Guts Nimbin Museum and Rainbow Cafe in Counterculture Capital." Bush Telegraph. Australian Broadcasting Commission 2014. 27 Nov. 2014 ‹http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bushtelegraph/nimbin-fire/5668428›.

Bennett, Andy. "Reappraising 'Counterculture'." Countercultures and Popular Music. Eds. Whiteley, Sheila and Jebediah Sklower. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. 17–26.

Grossberg, Lawrence. "Some Preliminary Conjunctural Thoughts on Countercultures." Journal of Gender and Power 1.1 (2014): 13–23.

Nelson, Elizabeth. The British Counter-Culture, 1966-73: A Study of the Underground Press. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989.

Parsons, Talcott. The Social System. New York: Free Press, 1951.

Roszak, Theodore. The Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. New York: Anchor, 1969.

Smith, Margaret, and David Crossley, eds. The Way Out: Radical Alternatives in Australia. Melbourne: Lansdowne, 1975.

Southern Cross University. "Aquarius and Beyond: 40 Years On..." Southern Cross University 2013. 5 Sep. 2014 ‹http://sassevents.scu.edu.au/aquarius/›.


Keywords


counterculture, Aquarius Festival, Nimbin, Australia

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