The Social Construction of Skinhead Identity

Sylvia J. Sievers, SUNY at Stony Brook

ABSTRACT
This paper uses the social learning theories of differential association, differential identification and differential reinforcement to examine the impact of interpersonal networks and the mass media on the identity formation of skinheads in the USA. I argue that neo-Nazi skinheads recruit new members primarily through such mass contact means as pamphlets and flyers, rather than through personal contact, and because of this rely heavily on media representation to create their own identity. Since the media present only the violent, neo-Nazi side of the skinhead movement, these neo-Nazi skinheads remain ignorant of the broader skinhead movement, including its history and non-violent form. In this paper, I contrast this essentially media-based construction of identity with other types of skinheads whose identity develops out of interpersonal contacts and network connections. Twenty-seven skinheads from eleven states were recruited via the Internet and interviewed for this study, including both women (29.6%) and men (70.4%) as well as racist (18.5%) and non-racist (81.5%) skinheads. Results from this study show support for the social learning theories of differential association, differential identification and differential reinforcement and implications for the theory of identity construction are drawn.

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Updated 05/20/2006