‘Justa Nother Teenage Rebel’
: space, memory and conflict in an oral history of the Belfast Punk Scene, 1977-1986

  • Fearghus Roulston

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis is an oral history of the punk scene in Belfast between 1977 and 1986. Interrogating the idea that punk was a non-sectarian subculture, it argues that the accounts of my interviewees suggest a more nuanced relationship between the punk scene and Northern Irish society. Through detailed analysis of four interviews, it describes the punk scene as a structure of feeling that allowed Protestant and Catholic teenagers and young people to intervene in the sectarianised space of Belfast in new ways, without transcending the influence of sectarianism entirely. It also suggests that considering the ways in which people remember the punk scene, via the interpretative oral history methodology first developed by Alessandro Portelli and Luisa Passerini, offers an insight into how memories of everyday life are shaped by Northern Irish memory cultures as well as by lived experiences of punk and of the Troubles.

    The first part of the thesis provides a framework for this analysis. The first chapter argues that sectarianism needs to be understood as a doubly-articulated structure, dependent on the state, that percolates through institutions into individual attitudes and behaviours. It develops this idea through a history of the key institutions in this process, before situating punk within them. The second chapter develops this idea by historicising the sectarianisation of space in Belfast. It concludes with an account of the punk scene’s intervention in this space. The third chapter outlines the method of the thesis and argues that oral history makes visible facets of the punk scene that are not accessible via the documentary record. This is particularly the case when considering how interviewees compose and express their memories of the period.

    The second part of the thesis analyses four interviews to draw out specific facets of the punk scene as a structure of feeling and a spatial intervention, making an original contribution to knowledge about punk in Belfast and about young people’s experiences of space and sectarianism during the Troubles. These specific facets are the possibility for transgressive movement offered by punk; the possibility for changing one’s relationship both to place and to history; and the possibility for changing spaces themselves through political activism. The central argument here is that attending carefully to how people narrate their historical experiences can illuminate our understanding of punk’s intervention in everyday life in Northern Ireland.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorGraham Dawson (Supervisor)


    • Punk
    • Northern Ireland
    • Oral History
    • Everyday Life
    • Henri Lefebvre
    • Memory
    • Raymond Williams

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