Meet the tutors: Dr Ray Kinsella and Kevin Quinn
We caught up with Dr Ray Kinsella and Kevin Quinn to hear about their webinar series on subcultures and find out about their current projects and research interests.
Ray and Kevin are running three webinars that are designed to explore the residual power and value of British subcultures; Introduction to British Youth Subcultures Webinar, Subcultures Today and Tomorrow Webinar, and Subcultures and the Resetting of the Cultural Clock Webinar.
We’ll hear about what students can expect from these webinars and discuss the role and history of subcultures in the wider cultural landscape. If you’d like to find out more about British subcultures, take a look at our guide on the Top 8 British Youth Subcultures.
What is your background and research area?
Ray: My name is Dr Ray Kinsella and I’m an associate lecturer at Central Saint Martins. I’m currently working on turning my PhD research into a book. My research was about the Bebop jazz in Soho, London in the mid-1940s, from 1945 to 1950. I was looking at the music, style and transracial relationships across gender that provoked a moral panic at the time.
Kevin: My name is Kevin and I’m a part-time PhD student at Central Saint Martins. I’m analysing the New Musical Express (NME), which was a big weekly music paper that ran from 1982 to 2018. I’m investigating the period 1979-1983 when the paper was selling a quarter of a million copies a week. I’m particularly interested in the performative power the critics had as well as the idea of the paper’s role as a cultural tastemaker during a period of cultural, political and social unrest.
How did you come to work in your field?
Ray: I left school at 14 – so I was really young. I sort of dropped out of society really. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I decided to come back and get an education. I did a return to study course at City Lit, an adult education centre, and just kind of got my teeth into that, and 11 years later I’ve got a PhD.
Kevin: I left secondary education with very few qualifications and got into higher education in my thirties. Not having a solid, standard education behind me meant that I struggled initially. But by sticking at it I got there in the end. I was predominately a self-taught youth and it was only by attending evening classes that I realised I could turn my own passions and interests into something and use it as a springboard for development. I’m always learning more, it’s forever an endless cycle.
Tell us about something you've been working on recently
Ray: I’ve recently started researching the late 1980s and 1990s subcultural scene in Islington, London. I’m working on turning the focus from a national perspective to a local level to see what that reveals about the scene as a whole. When I say Islington, I mean the whole borough, from King’s Cross to Archway, from Finsbury Park to Old Street – all the pockets of industrialised spaces in that borough. There’s a lot of people from that borough who pioneered acid house. Even where Central Saint Martins is based now, there was a history of old warehouses and a lot of illegal acid house parties took place.
Kevin: I’m currently looking at a cassette that was released in conjunction with Rough Trade, the independent record label. I’m exploring what it meant culturally in terms of the NME (New Musical Express) and my argument is that it signified an eventual decline. I’ve also been looking at the year 1981. In 1981 there were over 60 riots across the UK, and I’m focusing on one riot which the NME covered in quite a prejudiced manner. I’m analysing a strand of Punk which the NME took against and exploring the reasons why. It’s unearthed a lot of issues around class, taste and race.
Can you tell us about the webinars that you run?
Ray: Our webinars are about the study of post-war British youth subcultures, beginning from the very first time they were studied in Chicago in the 20th century, up until they were adopted by British cultural studies in the 1970s. The study of subcultures goes back to the 1920s when the University of Chicago started doing ethnographic research into gang culture and deviance. By the 1970s, researchers were studying post-war British youth subcultures. They began with the 1950s by looking at the working-class deviant subculture, the teddy boys, but my research has taken it back a little bit further than that and I’ve challenged the idea that it begins in the 1950s. I’ve used the jazz scene, specifically one genre of the jazz scene, namely bebop in 1940s Soho London, to demonstrate that we can actually read subcultures at the beginning of the 1940s. In the webinars we go right through the history of subcultures and look at subcultures in the virtual worlds, with a focus on how they manifest online and in the 21st century.
Kevin: The webinars are for anyone and everyone. We’re hoping that they will act as a pathway for participants to pursue their own explorations into both wider histories but also more personal and particular subcultural memberships. We want these webinars to act as conversation starters and provide a sight for engagement and the sharing of cross-cultural, transnational experiences, memories and recollections. We’d like to add to the existing debates, but also to create even more. History is a concept that is forever in transition through questioning and reassessment.
Ray: Subcultures can be used as a lens to look at the wider social, political and economic changes in society. They can tell us something about the present as well as the past. That’s what makes them so interesting.
Kevin: If anyone’s unsure about doing this course, keep in mind that it’s up to you what you get out of them, so it’s as demanding as you want it to be. But it should stir up your interest and get you thinking.
What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?
Ray: For anyone out there who may be looking for some inspiration I would say don’t give up and don’t be afraid to reach for your goals. Reach for the stars!
Kevin: The best piece of advice I can give might seem like a bit of a cliché, but it’s just to keep going. It’s really all about self-belief and a willingness to stick at it. Like Ray, I left secondary education with very few qualifications and I got into higher education in my thirties. I struggled initially but by sticking at it, I got there in the end. If you can pursue your passions in any form, then to me that’s a wonderful thing.
Want to find out more about subcultures and their relationship to fashion, style and community? Take a look at our Upcoming Webinars with Dr Ray Kinsella and Kevin Quinn.