Self-made Motormen: The Material Construction of Working-class Masculine Identities through Car Modification

by Andrew Bengry-Howell; Christine Griffin


This paper explores how motorcars and car-based cultural practices operate in the construction of young working-class masculine identities. It draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted during the summer of 2002 with young male car modifiers from the Midlands and North Wales who associated with the British cruising scene. Although this study is broadly framed by the youth cultural world of cruising, it does not approach car modification as a collective cultural phenomenon or draw on subcultural theory, but instead examines young men’s relationships with their cars in terms of general theories of consumption and identity and theories of cultural production. The car modifiers participating in this study frequently resisted calls to collectivity and repeatedly endorsed a heavily individualised discourse of consumption. As consumers of the motorcar, they constituted themselves as absolutely individual on the basis of their ownership of modified cars that they constituted as culturally unique. Car modification operated as a set of identity practices organised around the active consumption and symbolic manipulation of standard motorcars and the cultural production of idiosyncratic signifiers of masculine identity. Through car modification, young working-class men discursively distanced themselves from the mass of standard car-owning subjects and constituted themselves as ‘unique’ car-owning individuals who were culturally privileged. This claim to privilege was predicated on their capacity to produce highly conspicuous motorcars, which they viewed as a source of considerable cultural capital.

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