“There is no authority but yourself”
: Tracing first-wave British punk philosophy, from Nietzsche to Rotten

  • Grace Healy

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


1970s British punk-rock has been studied as both a music genre and subculture to great extent in the literature. It is often framed as a rejection of prog-rock, working-class socialist revolt, and celebration of nihilism. This thesis instead locates punk within Existential philosophy, a school of thought centring on personal authenticity. The Sex Pistols embody Existentialism perhaps more so than any other punk band active in the 1970s. Central tenets shared by both the Sex Pistols and Existentialism include: destruction as a path to creation; the rejection of authority, morality, systems of thought and religion; the elevation of personal authenticity as the highest value, and an ability to encourage critique, self-reflection, and activity. These themes are explored through the work of Existentialists Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Gabrielle Suchon and Simone de Beauvoir. The principal aim of this thesis is to understand the ways in which punk embodies the philosophy of these towering philosophical figures; firstly, from the perspective of a generalised (Western) human experience (in relation to the predicament of modernity); and secondly, from the perspective of the Western female. Punk attitude, lyrics, and music are analysed throughout, demonstrating that these elements of the subculture work together to not only embody Existential philosophy, but create a space within which an existence moulded by Existential principles can be explored. Tracing punk genealogy is shown to not only provide the subculture with a richer sense of itself, but to enrich the study of philosophy.
Date of Award22 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorCatherine Haworth (Main Supervisor) & Jan Herbst (Co-Supervisor)

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