“Protest? Bollocks!” On Public Perceptions of Punk in West Germany


  • Yvonne Robel




political protest, youth cultures, social change, emotions, public discourse, nonwork, no future, West Germany, punk


The article thematizes the phenomenon of punk as an example of “unconventional” and “unwelcomed” protest. It focuses on the public perception of West German punks from the late 1970s into the 1980s. In this early phase, punks caused confusion especially because of their alleged passivity. Their seeming rejection of a concept of being (politically) active was regarded as provocative, as the idea of “activity” largely dominated notions of legitimate political protest at that time. Punk was considered destructive and contentless, but non-political and as such “non-real” as a form of protest. Moreover, “experts” from the social sciences and pedagogy, politicians, and journalists interpreted the behaviour of the youth in social terms and responded to the “problem” with attempts to “understanding” and “help.” From their point of view too, Punks seemed to be unable to detect any political issues of their own or to fulfil notions of meaningful forms of protest. Using the example of punk perceptions, the article examines how collective knowledge about legitimate and proper forms of protest is negotiated through demarcations.