Re-thinking Solidarity at the Fringes of Consumer Culture: What Do Outlaw Bikers Have that "Brand Communities" Lack?


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The Journal of Culture;Vol. 8, No 1


Institute of Ethnology

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The article asks a question that may, at first sight, appear rather simple. Namely, what is the nature of solidarity among outlaw motorcycle clubs and how does it differ from so-called ‘brand communities’, a concept popular in consumer culture studies and marketing, pointing to the ability of brands to serve as a new potent means of identification essential to the formation of communities. To answer this, we must ask: what are the limits of the brand community? This question is investigated here through a juxtaposition of the subculture of outlaw motorcycle clubs and possibly the most notorious brand community – Harley Owners Group (HOGs). Membership in the former depends on a long period of trial, and is reserved only to those who are ritually initiated into the club following successful completion of their trial period – membership cannot be bought and the logo of the club, it's brand, is both sacred to the members and inalienable; people are willing to die for it and to kill for it. On the other hand, membership in HOG’s ultimately depends on a purchase, even if it cannot be reduced to it. It is argued that this has profound effects on the nature of solidarity and community that emerge: on one hand, a greedy institution which produces a sacred, on another, a weak brand community, a semblance of the Real.




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