Paranormal politics and the romance of urban subcultures: youth mobility in Cassandra Clare's and Melissa Marr's fantasy texts.
Subcultures have long been associated with the city, even viewed as a consequence of urbanization (Fischer). The city is the pre-eminent site for the performance of a spectacular stylistic aesthetic and "risky" and sometimes "deviant" subcultural alterities that resist conformity with the dominant culture. Rosemary Jackson argues that fantasy literature "opens up, for a brief moment, on to ... that which is outside dominant value systems" (2). This makes youth subcultural spaces a natural setting for urban fantasy for young adults. Eschewing the notion of a monolithic "youth culture," Clare's and Marr's novels reflect the "cultural plurality" (Brake 8) of young people's urban lifestyles. They show how subcultural identity and affiliation provide a means for young people to differentiate themselves from the dominant culture, parental authority, and each other.
The scenes where subcultural style is performed in Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely--dance clubs, music venues, bars, warehouse parties, cafes, pool halls, and tattoo parlours frequented by the human protagonists--are also the haunts of the supernatural characters. These include vampires, lycanthropes, faeries, warlocks, angels, and demons, which in Clare's novels pass as Goth, punk, and biker. Marr integrates biker and ink (tattoo) subcultures and a virile male criminal underclass into her fantasy world. Some of the subcultures depicted in these novels are suggestive of social deviance and criminality. Others encode an ambivalent nostalgia for traditional, even primitive, communities. Others still are subversive, reflecting the political resistance of disenfranchised youth that members of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) attributed to subcultural style in the 1970s (see Hall and Jefferson; Hebdige).
Contemporary post-subcultural studies view contemporary youth subcultures as ultimately apolitical. Due to its association with CCCS, some scholars reject the use of the term "subculture" altogether, preferring "clubcultures" or "club cultures" (Redhead; Thornton), "scenes" (Shank; Straw), or "neo-tribes" (Bennett; Maffesoli). Post-subcultural studies theorize membership of youth subcultures as fluid, as temporary, and largely as a matter of choice, which suggests that they are all style and no substance. However, if this apoliticism applies to the human youth subcultures that form the backdrop for the action in Clare's and Marr's books, these texts are concerned precisely with the political machinations of the supernatural realm into which their girl protagonists are drawn. Far from being a matter of choice, membership of supernatural subcultures is determined by blood, species, or race. These subcultures are political insofar as relations between them are informed by contests for power and territory.
In this essay, we argue that both Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely represent (human) youth social subcultural affiliation as predominantly voluntary and fluid. The supernatural social groupings they depict are exclusive, however, and authentic mobility between them is illusory. Thus, while both series seem to promise their young human protagonists mobility and change in a late modern urban landscape rich with new meanings and identities, the involvement of their girl protagonists with the supernatural holds the potential to recuperate a conservative politics. The political and social organization of the supernatural realm is characterized by the fixity and tradition of the premodern societies in which the fey, vampires, werewolves, and warlocks that populate these novels were first imagined. Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely offer different solutions to social discord. We argue that this is a consequence of the political tendencies implicit in the fantasy types posited by Irvine, of which these series are emblematic. To frame our analysis of the novels, we describe Irvine's typology of urban fantasy and then explain relevant elements of subcultural and post-subcultural theory, contextualizing Clare's and Marr's urban fantasies in relation to each.
Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely as Urban Fantasies
When the supernatural enters the metropolis in urban fantasy, it creates tension between ancient or very old forms of magic and the city landscape of late modernity. Some urban fantasies are set in real cities, such as New York, London, or Seattle, others in fantastic cities constructed by their authors. Much of Mortal Instruments is set in New York, a city that has been viewed as resonant with both high modernist utopian monuments and nineteenth-century decadence. The New York of urban fantasy has long been a site of the Gothic imaginary. Like London, it is a "paper city" (Sedia) that has been represented in literature and popular culture as a collection of "villages"--and, more recently, of "hoods"--with which subcultures are often associated. New York encodes the potential of the local and the neighbourhood amid the global and the cosmopolitan. Wicked Lovely begins in the considerably less glamorous fictional city of Huntsdale, located near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Its supernatural subcultural spaces are largely the suburbs with their fey-friendly green space estates and the city parks, which are the natural locus for dangerous others.
Wicked Lovely and Mortal Instruments exemplify Irvine's typology of urban fantasy. He distinguishes between texts "in which urban is a descriptor applied to fantasy and those in which fantasy modifies urban" (200). Texts of the former type, the folkloric, have increased in number as writers have shifted their fictional settings from the pastoral to the urban yet retained their ties with the literary fantasy tradition. Like Holly Black's Modern Faerie Tales series, Leslie Livingston's Wondrous Strange and its sequels, and R. J. Anderson's Faery Rebels series, Wicked Lovely finds its literary antecedents in folk tales. It novelizes faerie pre-texts sourced from nineteenth-century collections, fragments which frame chapters in the form of epigraphs. Irvine links texts in which "fantasy modifies urban" to the tradition of literary interrogations of life in the metropolis, particularly modernist literature. Other contemporary young adult texts adopting this approach include Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone and its sequels and Daniel Jose Older's Shadowshaper. We will argue that Mortal Instruments falls into this category. Both types, we suggest, depend on a cultural poetics of the city, an aestheticized space that is represented as "a protean site of new possibilities and alterities" (Goh 22). Urban subcultural sites are spaces in which change and transformation is made possible by interaction and even merger with extraordinary forces outside the self.
According to Scott Lash, imagined transition to the urban environment enables "shared meanings," a reflexive investment in the "communal world of youth subculture" (147) for young adult readers. The city and its subcultures represent an aspirational site, a location in which it is possible for young people to enact freedom from local restrictions or family authority and, in some cases, to cultivate a transgressive sexualized identity. Within these spaces, the young female protagonists of urban fantasy are able to embrace "the emancipatory pleasures of physical transformation" (Nicol 169). However, an apparent "reinvention" of adolescent identity associated with such spaces may end in existential closure that recuperates "the local, the fixed and the traditional" (Thomson and Taylor 327). For instance, in paranormal romance iterations of the urban fantasy genre such as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and Lauren Kate's Fallen series, the metanarrative of epic fantasy, with its humanist ethics and conservative gender roles, coexists alongside the apparently postmodern project of the self (Giddens) signified by the aspirational economy of mobility. Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely also include paranormal romance subplots, but they play different roles in the narrative politics of each series.
For the sake of economy, we focus on selected books from each series. Clare's City of Bones, City of Ashes, and City of Glass complete the first story arc of Mortal Instruments. The series was originally conceived as a trilogy and therefore the first three books have a coherent narrative and closure. Following the conventions of epic fantasy, the novels depict apparently ordinary American schoolgirl Clary Fray, who becomes the hero in a supernatural battle between good and evil that threatens the world. Together, these three novels function as an allegory for multicultural late modernity, its positive aspects signified by the cultural diversity of New York, its negative by conflicts founded on distinctions of blood between the supernatural species. They thus reflect a preoccupation with modern existence, which Irvine identifies in fantasy that modifies the urban. The Wicked Lovely novels are more loosely linked. Although there are characters that appear throughout the series, the novels we focus on, Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, and Radiant Shadows have different main protagonists: Aislinn, Leslie, and Ani, respectively. Marr constructs a very different system of political organization in the supernatural realm from that of Clare. Her medievalist faerie society evokes feudal hierarchies, tribal feuds, and biological essentialism, and each book focuses on the intrigues in and between different faerie courts. The series' supernatural metaphysics are more fluid than Mortal Instruments, reflecting the diversity of its fairy-tale hypotexts. In Rhonda Nicol's view, Wicked Lovely makes "the fairy tale masterplot legible" (1 66) within the urban fantasy structure, and it has elements that conform to the model of the folktale reversioned as a "metanarrative of female agency" (Stephens and McCall urn 210).
Clare's City of Bones and Marr's Wicked Lovely share a similar narrative premise. Clary and Aislinn can see the supernatural denizens of the city, from whom a maternal figure seeks to protect them. They both have the ability to see supernatural beings otherwise invisible to humans. In City of Bones, Clary discovers she can see demons, the Shadowhunters who exterminate them, and her own Shadowhunter lineage. City of Ashes develops both the political and romantic strands of the narrative, which are resolved in City of Glass. In Wicked Lovely, Aislinn has always been able to see the dangerous fey, and she fears they will kill her if they find out. She is the object of desire of the King of the Summer Court, and finally becomes his queen, although on her own terms. In Ink Exchange, Leslie is transformed into a part-fey so that the king of the Dark Court can use her to channel dark emotions (such as pain and anger) to feed his subjects. Ultimately, she is able to free herself from his control. Radiant Shadows features Ani, a part-human, part-fey character who creates a new court to achieve a balance of power and deter further conflict between the fey. Through their engagement with the supernatural, all three protagonists come into power as young women, both as sexual subjects and as supernatural beings. In both series, contemporary female coming of age is played out against a backdrop of urban youth subcultures, which are theorized as being "tied to mobility" and providing freedom from the restrictions of the "parent culture" (Gelder 88).
Urban Youth Subcultures, Modern Society, and the Allure of the Supernatural
Cultural studies and sociological research on "spectacular subcultures" (initially punks and later Goths, ravers, and skaters) has documented how members' performance of subcultural identity is articulated rhetorically. These subcultures are "spectacular" because they are predominantly identified and defined by their stylistic tastes and routines--dress, deportment, demeanour, slang--and practices that are primarily performed in subcultural sites and scenes. In Mortal Instruments, the subcultural spaces of all-age dance clubs and cafe poetry readings in which Clary and her "geek hipster" friend Simon initially move expand to include the darker and more deviant subcultural spaces occupied by the supernatural characters. In Wicked Lovely, the tattoo shop, Pins and Needles, is a recurrent setting. It is a place where faeries and humans meet. It is, in fact, a halfway house, where human-faerie hybrids live and work. It is described as a genuine subcultural space: it was "not a glossy shop" and "retained some of the grit of the art, not catering to the trendy crowd" (Wicked 37). A niche commodity subculture, tattooing is referenced in Mortal Instruments as well.
In his foundational study of subcultural style, Dick Hebdige asserts that "[t]he communication of significant difference ... (and the parallel communication of group identity) is the 'point' behind the style of all spectacular subcultures" (102). His work exemplifies the subcultural theory of the CCCS, departing from earlier understandings that linked youth subcultures to delinquency or to generational differences (Muggleton, "From Classlessness"). According to Hebdige, the spectacular elements of youth subcultures constitute a stylistic opposition to hegemonic cultural systems, the class system in particular. Post-subcultural studies (or New Subcultural Theory), however, regards such acts of resistance as merely symbolic. To use David Muggleton's suggestive phrase, they are "magical [or] ideological solutions" that fail to challenge real material relations of inequality (Inside 17).
Post-subcultural approaches, influenced by post-structuralism, variously seek to account for the changing social landscapes of late modernity, including the impact of mass consumer culture. Whereas Hebdige saw the media appropriation and market commercialization of subcultural style as unwelcome and inauthentic, Sarah Thornton argues that the subcultural style of club cultures is constituted precisely through the consumption of leisure, entertainment, and fashion, not identity politics involving categories such as class or race. Andy Bennett concurs, also observing the growing influence of global consumer culture. He regards subcultural identity and membership as much more fluid and necessarily less political than earlier subcultural theory assumed, referring to subcultures as "neotribes." His position is informed by Michel Maffesoli's concept of urban "neo-tribalism," which, "in contrast to the stability induced by classical tribalism, ... is characterized by fluidity, occasional gatherings and dispersal" and epitomized by "the street scene of modern megalopolises: the amateurs of jogging, punk or retro fashions, preppies and street performers" (76).
Subcultural membership today, this suggests, is predicated on temporary groupings and networks of affiliation, affective allegiances, commodification, and a sociality that may or may not extend to a shared ethics. Individuals may belong to more than one group at any one time, and in the case of youth, over the course of their adolescence. This appears to be supported by longitudinal studies of youth mobility. The subversive power of subcultures--the capacity to enact radical changes in individual identities and thus within social groups--is severely qualified when studied over the young person's life course and in the larger context of the intergenerational family overtime (Thomson and Taylor 330). Movement out of the "domestic sphere, away from home and family" (Celder 4) is one of the defining logics of youth subcultures. Movement to urban spaces and mobility between "spectacular" or "deviant" subcultures during adolescence, however, often resolves into reinstatement of conventional suburban and familial roles and associations in adulthood (Thomson and Taylor 336-37).
Yet subcultures also offer young people their own form of "homeliness" and "belonging" within the massification and anonymity of the metropolis. Gelder explains this contradiction as a tension between the values of the traditional community and modern society. The "term community," he says, is "used extensively as a way of expressing the social worlds of subcultures" (25). To clarify, he draws on Ferdinand Tonnies's binary of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, community and society. Gesellschaft is associated with modern societies. It is "defined by movement and cross-cultural contact and communication" (28) and is "fluid and fragmentary" (122). Its character is reflected in the cultural diversity of the mobile society of the city, which is productive of transformation and innovation but which is also a site of alienation, estrangement, and absence of durable social bonds.
Gemeinschaft, in contrast, is associated with kinship, family, and tribe as well as with small, stable, and traditional communities. Imbued with nostalgia for more "natural" and "authentic" premodern social formations and affiliations, it romanticizes the sense of community of those who belong to them. Gemeinschaft arguably is at odds with the metropolitan milieu of urban subcultures. Gelder identifies this tension in Maffesoli's thesis. Maffesoli's urban tribes are "emotional communities," which are explained with reference to Durkheim's "social divine" (Gelder 135). Paradoxically, therefore, at the same time that his urban neo-tribes are temporary and fluid formations, they also are associated with conformity and solidarity. Gelder explains that such sociality is connected with a "state of transcendence, and tied to ritual practices" (135). This leads him to speculate that neo-tribalism best describes "the sort of 'anachronistic' modern subcultural identities which themselves invoke a sense of the 'primitive,' the cultish, and the religious and 'divine'" (136), such as neopaganism and the leather and ink subcultures referenced in Marr's books.
The relevance of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft to our readings of Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely is underlined by Gelder's allusion to the supernatural in his account of Maffesoli's neo-tribalism. Referring to Maffesoli's work, Gelder differentiates "the vitalist, expressive and 'enchanting' social world of the tribe from the 'sanitized' ..., repressed and generally disenchanting realms of modern society, even as these two things are exactly concomitant with one another" (136; Maffesoli 99). We suggest that a comparable distinction exists between the supernatural realm and the mobile society of the city in contemporary urban fantasy, wherein "the tropes and characters of older fairy tales and folklore" are brought "into collision with a contemporary urban milieu" (Irvine 201).
In our view, Gesellschaft better describes the milieu of the human youth subcultures in Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely. The representation of ancient supernatural subcultures, by contrast, mirrors many of the characteristics of Gemeinschaft. They are ritualized, romantic, and even "divine." Through their association with them, the girl protagonists in these series are transformed, transcending a mundane existence and achieving a sense of belonging that is alluring but also dangerous. This is because the supernatural subcultures with which they come to be associated are also hierarchical, conformist, and antagonistic to voluntary identities. The two series, we will show, offer different perspectives on the competing values of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft that infuse contemporary youth subcultures and, we speculate, urban fantasy for young adults more generally. In the textual analysis that follows, we describe the human and supernatural subcultures the series depict, the forces that constrain mobility between them, and the ideological implications of their political organization.
Mortal Instruments and the Critique of Gemeinschaft
Benjamin Barber proclaims that "our world and our lives are caught between what William Butler Yeats called the two eternities of race and soul: that of race reflecting the tribal past, that of soul anticipating the cosmopolitan future" (3-4). The opposition between the tribal past and a cosmopolitan future and, we suggest, between the values of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft informs both Barber's treatise on globalism and Cassandra Clare's first three Mortal Instruments novels. The conflict between premodern and late modern value systems, Barber argues, foreshadows the prospect of anarchy and a return "to Milton's capital of hell, Pandaemonium" (4). Signifying a "place of uproar and chaos," the term "pandemonium," according to the Collins English Dictionary, was coined by Milton "from pan- [all] + Greek daimon demon." Pandemonium is also the name of the all-ages nightclub in which the opening chapter of City of Bones is set, its main characters introduced, and a distinction drawn between the subcultural politics of the human and supernatural.
Pandemonium captures the spectacular elements of contemporary youth music club cultures and the possibility they offer for forming new, albeit temporary, identities. For wholesome fifteen-year-old Clary, relieved to escape her mother's surveillance and unaware of her own supernatural identity, it is "like a dream, someone else's life, not her boring real life at all" (13). The club is a "fairyland" (10) of multicoloured lights and dry-ice smoke, music and drugs, fashion, accessories, and bodies that are signifiers of a diversity of subcultural style and New York cosmopolitanism. Clary observes "a group of teenage boys in metallic corsets," "a young Asian couple" wearing coloured hair extensions, a "boy with a lip piercing and teddy bear backpack handing out ... tablets of free herbal ecstasy" (12), and "a curvy black girl" (15). The subcultural pluralism and multiculturalism of the club--and Clary's voyeuristic rather than participatory relationship to it--is suggestive of the qualities of contemporary neo-tribes as merely occasional gatherings concerned with consumer aesthetics. These teenagers' accessories are temporary signifiers of both individuality and self-commodification, but Clary is fascinated by the glamour of the subcultural style they create. This scene in City of Bones constructs this glamour as both magical and stylish.
Waiting in line to enter the club with her friend Simon, Clary's attention is attracted by a punk boy:
He was normal-enough looking, Clary thought, for Pandemonium. He had electric-blue dyed hair that stuck up around his head ... but no elaborate facial tattoos or big metal bars through his ears or lips.... The boy's wide eyes were way too bright a green ... the color of antifreeze. Colored contact lenses probably. (9-10)
The boy carries what looks like a piece of wood. Challenged by the bouncer, he explains that he is dressed as a vampire hunter and the object he carries is made of foam rubber. In fact, the boy is a demon and he has used a glamour to fool the "mundanes" (mortals). His glamour bespeaks both the spectacular style of his costume and the magic that disguises his demonic nature and the weapon he carries.
Hebdige describes the commodities from which subcultural style is constructed as "humble objects" that have been "magically appropriated; 'stolen' by subordinate groups and made to carry 'secret' meanings; meanings which express, in code, a form of resistance to the order which guarantees their continued subordination" (18). The accessory to the punk boy's costume is indeed "magically appropriated," and it evokes the duality of commodities that, as Hebdige argues, are "open to a double inflection; to 'illegitimate' as well as 'legitimate' uses" (18). The demon punk's weapon is legitimate as an aesthetic statement of style. The purpose for which he intends to use it, however, is illegitimate, setting the scene for the supernatural warring in the series.
Inside the club, Clary does not register the demon punk's blade when she watches him follow a beautiful young Goth woman into a storage room, but she does see the knife carried by one of the two young men trailing the couple. Siblings Isabelle and Alec Lightwood and their foster brother, Jace Wayland, are Nephilim or Shadowhunters, sexy demon hunters who haunt the clubs of Manhattan in search of prey. The Shadowhunters, too, are usually invisible to mundanes unless wearing a glamour. Clary follows them and watches helplessly as they kill the punk boy. In contrast to the apparently inclusive multiculturalism and subcultural eclecticism of those on the dance floor outside, the hidden encounter between Shadowhunters and the demon establishes the struggle between legitimate and illegitimate, dominant and subordinate, purity and danger, as well as the political pandemonium that informs the narrative arc of these three Mortal Instruments books.
As the narrative unfolds, Clary discovers her Shadowhunter descent and is implicated in a quest to recover the "Mortal Cup," a lost Nephilim artifact, before it falls into the hands of the evil Valentine Morgenstern. Gothic influences on the novel are foregrounded as Clary's quest becomes a search for her own past, to recover her lost memories in order to save her mother, who has been kidnapped by Valentine. In City of Bones, this quest takes Clary and Simon to the warehouse party of Magnus Bane, the High Warlock of Brooklyn. Magnus's party is imbued with the glamour of celebrity and subcultural alterity, including vampire motorcycle gangs with rigs altered to run on demon energies and a lilac bartender. When Simon drinks a cocktail at the party and is transformed into a rat, the action shifts to the vampire lair at the derelict Hotel Dumont, altered to read "Dumort" (257). There, Clary and the Shadowhunters meet the Latino vampire Raphael. His warning that they are in a dangerous neighbourhood conjures dominant societal fears of the criminal underworld, underclass subcultures, and ethnic gangs and gang warfare.
Indeed, the vampire Children of the Night and the werewolf Children of the Moon are sworn enemies. The aloof Fair Folk, the fey, regard the Children of Lilith, the warlocks, with disdain. All have territories within the metropolis, and so trespass into the territory of others is dangerous. The subordinate status of all four supernatural subcultures in respect to the dominant Nephilim culture is implicit in the Shadowhunter word for them: "Downworlders." These supernatural species and their hybrids are perceived as deviant and inferior. Jace, Alec, and Isabelle regard mortals, which they call "mundanes", as being little better, barely tolerating them. They define their Shadowhunter superiority and mission against the demons in contrast to what they see as the shallow existence of the mundanes, who are blind to the danger that surrounds them. This may seem to be symptomatic of the social fragmentation of the modern city and therefore of Gesellschaft.
The young New York Shadowhunters, however, appropriate the position of both state and religious army of the Nephilim nation of Idris. They occupy an old cathedral, a setting that resonates with the notion of the social divine, which is tied to place and ritual practices. It is referred to as the Institute, which together with Shadow World terms such as "Clave" and "Covenant" create a semiotic field in which the Gesellschaft of modern society superficially--and temporarily--overlays those of the "religiosity" of Gemelnschaft. Whereas Gesellschaft is "rationally, rather than emotionally, configured and a matter of contracts and agreements rather than fellowship" and its government is remote, in Gemeinschaft communities "authority figures are close by: the father, the priest" (Celder 135, 25). Ultimately, the site of the Shadowhunter headquarters alludes to the religious war of the third book. Its catalyst is the threat Valentine poses to the Accords, the treaty between the Nephilim Clave and the Downworlders, which is due for renegotiation in Alicante, the fantastic capital of Idris.
Valentine regards all Downworlders as demonic and undertakes a campaign to wipe them out. His purpose is "to keep this world pure for human beings" (City of Bones 87) and "to preserve the purity of the bloodlines of Idris" (City of Bones 154). He views the Nephilim, an angel-human hybrid race, as "the closest thing that exists in this world to gods--and we must use that power to save this world from destruction" (City of Ashes 241). The use of quasi-religious discourse, imagery, artifacts, and geographies, along with narrative allusions to the premodern metanarrative of "original sin" and references to the Gothic field of repressed sexuality and miscegenation, evokes a much more dangerous kind of tribalism than post-subcultural theory describes. Valentine is determined to exterminate the Downworlders--whom he describes as "slobbering, slavering crowds of half-breeds, the degenerate races trampling underfoot everything we hold dear" (City of Glass 308)--and their Shadowhunter sympathizers. For all the veneer of modern democratic participation and social inclusion that the Accords imply, however, the events in Clare's third book, City of Glass, demonstrate that Alicante is still a "closed, conformist and hierarchical" community (Barber 233).
Alicante embodies the negative potential of traditional Gemeinschaft communities, of which Barber writes:
Their exclusivity meant they were sealed against outsiders and intolerant of diversity; their "ascriptive" basis in a "given" identity (blood, race, religion) inured them to voluntary identities and held in check [the freedom to choose] social relations or join contrived social groupings at will; the hierarchical structure and dependency on charismatic leadership of traditional communities rendered them inegalitarian and resistant to social mobility; and their personalistic, noncontractual mode of relations rendered them prone to prejudice, gossip, argumentativeness, and corruption. (233)
It transpires that even under the existing Accords, the Downworlders are excluded from Alicante. "The Accords" that Valentine "dreaded so much didn't make the Downworlders equal to the Nephilim. They didn't assure half humans a spot on the Council. All the old hatreds were still in place" (City of Glass 308).
Adversity and common threat precipitate the first steps toward a more equal polity. A seat on the Council for each of the four Downworlder tribes--vampire, warlock, werewolf, and fey--is the condition upon which they will agree to join the Shadowhunters in the war against the slave army of demons that Valentine threatens to unleash if the Clave does not agree to his terms. The Clave initially resists the Downworlder demands. Clary brings about the resolution to this stalemate when she uses her exceptional ability to create new runes, a capacity revealed in City of Ashes. Runes, the Shadowhunter Marks, are temporarily visible tattoos that allude to both a particular subcultural style and the premodern, even primitive world. They hold powers beyond being signifiers of social affiliation, however. They possess magical properties, including the capacity to provide advantage in battle and to heal wounds. They are normally exclusive to the Nephilim. Whereas the Shadowhunter runes from the "Gray Book" are dangerous to mundanes and Downworlders alike, Clary's rune is newly created and transcends the boundaries of species. It is a rune of "binding" and she calls it "Alliance" because it requires a partner rune (City of Class 386, 415). That is, it requires a partnership between a Shadowhunter and a Downworlder. Valentine's army is thus defeated through the co-operation of the diverse supernatural subcultures.
The Alliance rune also occasions a number of formerly denied or suppressed romantic relationships and flirtations to be declared openly. These include Clary's Shadowhunter mother, Jocelyn, and her long-term platonic friend, the werewolf Luke, who is effectively (although not officially) Clary's stepfather. Shadowhunter Alec acknowledges his feelings for the gay warlock, Magnus. Simon, who is turned into a vampire in City of Ashes, accepts the flirtations of both Isabelle, a Shadowhunter, and Maia, a werewolf. Finally, Clary and Jace are free to enact their mutual sexual and romantic attraction, formerly taboo due to the false revelation that they are brother and sister. All characters can choose their social and romantic affiliations and create their own social and subcultural groups at will. In terms of female coming of age, Clary is now able to choose her own place in a world accepting of individual mobility and subcultural diversity. If this suggests something of the fluidity of contemporary neo-tribes, the closure of the first Mortal Instruments trilogy is far from apolitical. It promotes an inclusive and democratic multiculturalism that privileges literal and figurative hybridity and difference as a cohesive force. It rejects the enchantment of the homogeneous, closed Gemeinschaft community in favour of the transformative cosmopolitan potential of modern society, Gesellschaft. This is not the case in the Wicked Lovely novels we examine.
Wicked Lovely and the Romance of Gemeinschaft
Unlike Mortal Instruments, political rapprochement in the Wicked Lovely series prioritizes the collective over the individual and is concerned with the maintenance of social and cultural divisions. The four original faerie courts in the series--Summer, Winter, High, and Dark--suggest essentialist distinctions between the fey. Resolution to the conflict between them leaves in place the hierarchies within and boundaries between the courts. The values of democratic multiculturalism are not extended to the fey. Marr contains her courts in a mythic space characterized by internecine strife and familial feuds and by strategic alliances that are designed to preserve the court system. The potential for social change is located in the modern gender politics associated with the human and human-fey protagonists of the series. The political and social organization of the courts, however, is never questioned. The Wicked Lovely novels, we argue, romanticize Gemeinschaft and, to reiterate Thomson and Taylor, "the local, the fixed and the traditional" (327).
Mortal Instruments, we have argued, promotes the breakdown of strict boundaries between supernatural groups, and co-operation between groups is key to the success of the war against the demons. Wicked Lovely provides two resolutions for disharmony between its courts. Both resolutions are designed to safeguard the boundaries and to maintain distinctions between the separate faerie communities. Referring to the representation of faeries in the nineteenth century, Nicola Brown argues that, "[i]n contrast to Modern and particularly urban and metropolitan society, marked by anonymity, dislocation and alienation, the society in which fairies were a living tradition was one bound by community, stable and unchanging" (1 66). The primitive and the modern "fold into each other" (Gelder 135) in Wicked Lovely, particularly in the subcultural spaces the series constructs.
Club cultures are not the primary spaces of youth subcultural activity in Marr's series, although the Summer King, Keenan, owns his own club, "Rath and Ruins," and a chapter of Wicked Lovely is set there. Aislinn chooses modern subcultures that are seemingly counterhegemonic and that threaten danger: the pool hall, the tattooing subculture, the seedier part of town. Unlike Leslie in Ink Exchange and Ani in Radiant Shadows, however, she polices her immersion in these subcultures and the Catholic schoolgirl morality she observes is self-imposed. She diligently follows the anti-piercing rules of her school and consciously preserves her virginity. Her boyfriend, Seth, is heavily marked with the signifiers of tattoo and leather subcultures but ultimately is aloof from them: sanitized, self-controlled, abstinent, and respectful.
The humans in the series who discover and become part of the faerie world--Leslie, Aislinn, and Seth--occupy a subcultural field featuring body piercing and "inscription": embodied (tattoos), narrative (comix), and musical (high and popular culture, including "nu metal" bands like Limp Bizkit and Godsmack). Here, the imagery of metal connotes the rings and bars of body piercings, an alternative music genre, and, significantly, the iron walls of Seth's train house in the urban railway yard. The iron of the decaying modernist city centre retains traces of the nostalgic ideology of the nineteenth-century utopian vision of urban techno futures. In an ironic, premodernist move, the iron heart of the city, with its grim but lovely aesthetic, is a safe haven for the mortals who participate in urban subcultures. Only the stronger court fey can withstand the poison of the city's iron infrastructure. The mobility of most fey is therefore limited.
The faerie courts map less obviously onto existing subcultures than in Clare's books. The Dark Court is aligned with biker subculture given that its members ride "steeds" that appear as motorbikes (and occasionally as cars) to humans. The Summer, Winter, and High Courts reference familiar youth subcultures less overtly. It could be argued, however, that the Summer Court--with its dances, its appreciation of flowers and nature, and its tendency toward promiscuous relationships--alludes to hippie subcultures. Winter and High appear to be the more restrained and "adult" of the courts. They provide a counterbalance to the exuberance of the "youth" courts. Summer and Dark fey are often preoccupied with having fun and sex or with gratuitous violence. Not surprisingly, the young protagonists of Marr's books are more closely aligned with these "youth" courts.
All fey, by their very nature, are characterized by primitive, instinctual behaviours, whether casual cruelty or unrestrained eroticism. Their affiliation with a court is by sworn allegiance rather than based on species as it is in Mortal Instruments, suggesting that affiliation is voluntary. Once affiliated with their court, however, they gain nourishment in the manner of their chosen court. They manifest a kind of collective consciousness tied to the body of their regent. The Summer, Winter Dark, and High fey are nourished by heat, cold, emotion, and logic, respectively. Consequently, there is little subsequent mobility between the courts. The few fey that change courts or remain apart from them tend to be exceptional: aristocratic, human-like, or favoured with the protection of the monarch. Because court affiliation is constitutive and definitive, the supernatural creatures in Marr's books are ultimately freighted with "significations relating to nationhood, race and resistance" (Bradford 117) like they are in the Mortal Instruments series. Their primitive otherness acquires further significance through the tattoo subculture the fey share with humans. Tattoos can provide the inscribed person with superhuman powers in both series.
According to Gelder, tattooing is an anachronistic art. He argues that the practice of "adorning oneself with body art attributed to non-western indigenous cultures from the sometimes distant past is well expressed by the term modern primitives" (130). He locates the origins of modern tattoo subcultures in the age of exploration and European contact with Polynesia. This is to overlook that tattooing was a practice in ancient Europe, most pertinently to this discussion, among the warrior tribes of the early Celts, Piets, and Britons (DeMello). In Ink Exchange, Gabriel, who leads the Hounds from the Wild Hunt, exhibits prominent forearm tattoos written in Ogham, an ancient Celtic script. The tattoos function as signifiers of virile, masculine underclass car subculture with which Gabriel and the Hounds are associated. The tattoos mark the social role of the Hounds as a gang, a race, and a tribe whose function is to elicit fear of the Dark Court. The Ogham tattoos organically link them to the Dark King, Irial, and inscribe his orders--and intention "to intimidate" (Ink 33)--on their skins. In both Ink Exchange and Radiant Shadows, tattoos carry connotations of criminality, violence, soldiery, and macho fetishism associated with the histories of outlaw biker culture. Leslie is attracted to the machismo, the scars, and the paraphernalia of the tough and criminal elements of the Dark fey subculture, but she rejects the sleaziness and the poverty of the real world underclass represented by her drug dealer brother.
After she is raped, Leslie decides to get a tattoo.
This may suggest a certain reckless masochism, but it is in fact a symbolic act of reclamation. Nicol argues that her tattoo is an "outward signifier of her altered body, but the act of being tattooed, the experience of a painful act she chooses for herself, is a necessary part of the transformation as well" (1 77; emphasis added). The social ritual of being tattooed activates the potential for primitive transcendence: "There was something primal about the process that resonated for her, some sense that after this she'd be irrevocably different" (Ink 45). This is ironic, however, because the injection of the divine into the ritual is literal: I rial's fey blood has been mixed with the ink. Thus, her tattoo, a symbol of defiance, provides the vehicle for another, supernatural form of control over Leslie. She, like Aislinn, can now see the fey and is both human and fey for a time.
The primary attraction of the tattoo subculture for the female protagonists is the promise it holds for transformation, empowerment, and sexual coming of age. Tattoos are associated with a "primitive desire for an exaggerated exterior," according to Albert Parry (1), and, as Gelder notes, are linked to "sexual awakening," a rite of passage that combines "pleasure and pain" (130). For Leslie, the process of getting the tattoo is described precisely in these terms, a "euphoric zinging" (Ink 49), and connected with her romantic bond with I rial. When Ani, the mortal-Hound hybrid who is Gabriel's daughter, achieves her regency in the Shadow Court in Radiant Shadows, she is marked with her own wolf-shaped tattoos. They represent the animistic force of the New Hunt and the new pack of Hounds she has established. Contemporary tattoo subcultures, however, are implicated in middle-class appropriation of the cultural practices of Indigenous cultures and of the underclasses, which Parry sees as a symbolic attempt to borrow "primitive strength" (92) and which Margo DeMello interprets as the result of commercialization. Wicked Lovely situates the tattoo parlour, Pins and Needles, as a site of potential resistance to adult control over the teenage protagonists' autonomy, but the series arguably is implicated in the commodification, sanitization, and normalization of tattoo subcultures.
By its very nature, the youth subcultural milieu, whether a site of class resistance (Hebdige), commodified subcultural performance (Thornton), or temporary neo-tribal affiliation (Bennett; Maffesoli), is philosophically opposed to the institution of hereditary monarchy and the hierarchies of the royal court. Gelder argues that subcultures have a negative or ambivalent relationship to hierarchies. When Aislinn becomes the Summer Queen, her human subcultural aesthetics evidenced by her taste in music and tattoos remain. However, the "secret meanings" of the regalia and ritual of faerie royalty, which seem to promise empowerment, turn out actually to guarantee the "continued subordination" (Hebdige 18) of marginalized groups, such as humans with no magical abilities and less human-like supernatural creatures. In this fictional world, the democratic multiculturalism of the modern metropolis never threatens the status quo of the quasi-mystical aristocratic faerie courts. The institution of royalty, with its organic hierarchies of power, is normalized and depoliticized through the narrative emphasis on the personal, including familial relationships and paranormal romance.
In Wicked Lovely, the treatment of the conflict between the Summer and Winter Courts transforms highly political tensions into matters of individual dispositions, personal vendettas, and dysfunctional relationships. The battle between the Winter Queen and the Summer King is represented as a function of discord between mother and son. Beira, the phallic mother, has cursed Keenan. The curse that binds his powers also affects summer in the mortal world. When she attacks Keenan early in the narrative, her touch is ice and anathema to him given his need for warmth and sunshine. She is wearing a "modest floral dress, a frilly apron, and a single strand of pearls" (48) when she forces ice into his body. This ensemble dramatizes her maternal role even as she violates her son, turning politics into an intergenerational power struggle. This is resolved in the conclusion of the novel. Aislinn and Keenan kill Beira, after which Donia, Aislinn's unsuccessful predecessor in Keenan's long quest to find his consort, becomes the new Winter Queen.
Contrary to Keenan's expectations, when Aislinn agrees to become the Summer Queen, she does not enter into a romantic relationship with him. Donia advises her that her "modernity is [her] best weapon" (Wicked 228), characterizing Aislinn as beneficiary of modern feminism and, therefore, as empowered to "negotiate for what control [she] can wrest from" the Summer King (228). As a result, Seth remains her boyfriend. This opens the way for a romance between Keenan and Donia, but the binary opposition between Summer and Winter makes it impossible for them to touch each other without pain. Once Keenan relinquishes his power in Darkest Mercy, the final volume, he and Donia are united and the Summer and Winter Courts finally stabilize with two girls as monarchs. Nicol argues that the romance narrative between Donia and Keenan resists the "hegemonic social order" (1 71) because Donia is not an "endlessly self-sacrificing and accommodating female" (172). When the girl protagonists of these books--Aislinn, Leslie, and to a lesser extent Ani--come into their power as young women and as supernatural beings, they are supported in their new identities by a romantic alliance with a male partner who embodies the dangerous virility of traditional subcultures yet respects the agency and individuality of the female. If these books resist male hegemony, however, the paranormal romance plots overwrite the social and political implications of the anachronistic court system.
Disequilibrium between the courts is typically resolved when heterosexual couples form stable relationships or strategic alliances. The romantic bond between Keenan and Donia allows them to form peace between the two courts in Wicked Lovely. Ani (Dark Court) and Devlin (High Court) unite to save Faerie and create their own regency and pack in Radiant Shadows. They forge a blood bond to create the new Shadow Court, in which Ani shares power as Gabrielle of the New Hunt. The ability to balance the High Court is only made possible by the combination of their powers. When Seth, by now a human-High Court hybrid, finally links all four courts in Darkest Mercy, it is through romantic unions, homosocial affiliation, and inheritance. Accord between the courts symbolizes stasis, not fluidity, while the focus on premodern modes of diplomacy undermines the political valence of their juxtaposition with modern urban subcultures.
Marr attributes modern urban subcultural sensibilities to the ancient fey. At the same time, she romanticizes the courts. They are "coherent subcultures," not a "series of temporal gatherings characterized by fluid boundaries and floating memberships" (Bennett 600). Emphasizing kinship, tribe, and tradition, the courts are Gemeinschaft communities. The narrative trajectory of the series suggests that the traditional, fixed boundaries between closed communities are a natural consequence of essential differences, organic and mystical, between the fey. Mobility is restricted to select individuals. The hybridity that Aislinn, Leslie, and Ani represent through virtue of being half-human, half-fey makes them exceptional and does not function as a democratizing influence.
Our analysis of Mortal Instruments and Wicked Lovely suggests that the choice of urban youth subcultures as a primary setting of urban fantasy invokes the cultural poetics of the city. The figurative play of meanings within the cities' subcultural spaces symbolizes the potential for new identities and the fluidity of social and sexual affiliations. These places are inhabited by species of supernatural subcultural others who figure as tropes of resistance to the more restrictive local and parental structures of regulation the young female protagonists experience in their domestic situations. Apparent resistance to these obstacles to the project of adolescent self-actualization is represented through the initial dramatization of the subcultural self as a transgressive identity.
However, as post-subcultural theory suggests, youth subcultures and their supposedly aspirational, even transformational politics are subject to the influence of late modernity. Following Irvine's typology, fantasy modifies the urban in the Mortal Instruments series, whereby the human subcultures in which Clary and Simon initially move reflect the "unstable and shifting cultural affiliation" (Bennett 605; see also Sweet 244) that characterizes the late modern, consumer-based metropolis. The cosmopolitan plurality of the human subcultures is juxtaposed with the supernatural subcultures that haunt the "hoods" of New York. They are divided by conflicts driven by race, ethnicity, and religion. Their subcultural identity is neither voluntary nor temporary and is associated strongly with territory and limited mobility. The friction between the Downworlders, and the Shadowhunters' prejudice toward them, however, are not attributed to the loss of social cohesion in the modern city. Rather, the narrative locates the source in the conservative politics of the closed city of Alicante.
The values of Gemeinschaft that the Mortal Instruments series calls into question are romanticized in Wicked Lovely. In Marr's books, the urban modifies fantasy (Irvine 200). Although they envisage the gender dynamics of traditional folklore in a new way, these novels affirm the premodern political organization and the certainties of its folkloric pre-texts: medieval feudalism, essentialist distinctions between species, and stable monogamous romantic alliance as the basis for social harmony. The violent, even sinister, supernatural subcultures in both sets of books represent a "vitalist, expressive and 'enchanting' social world" associated with Gemeinschaft (Gelder 136), and Marr's books do not sustain their exploration of dangerous, politically anachronistic and asocial fey ways of being or, indeed, of the deviance of the gritty urban subcultures that the fey infiltrate. This may well be a consequence of its faithfulness to folkloric pre-texts and sources. Instead, it resolves its politics through traditional and still dominant structures of social affiliation. It prioritizes subcultural style ahead of political mindfulness.
The differences between the two series have implications for the positioning of young adult readers and for the scholarship on urban fantasy. Whereas both sets of books play with the idea of social volition and mobility in young people's choices of social and subcultural affiliations, only Mortal Instruments promotes political engagement with the "divergence and dissent" (Williams 45) of late modernity. It promotes the potential of contemporary Gesellschaft as a cohesive and transformative social force. Although Wicked Lovely endorses female empowerment for its girl readers, it romanticizes Gemeinschaft. It resolves the shortcomings of traditional communities with traditional solutions. This does not empower its girl readers to understand the political complexities of living in the "open, complex, mobile society" (Williams 45) of the contemporary metropolis. As such, these series are not only representative of Irvine's typology of urban fantasy but also indicative of the political tendencies they can invite.
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Leonie Rutherford is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University in Australia. Her research interests include the media practices of children and youth, television studies, multi-platform production, audience research, the reading practices of adolescents, media policy, and influences of media on children's digital literacy, health, and educational outcomes.
Elizabeth Bullen is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University in Australia. She has published on child and youth media cultures, globalization, and higher education. Her coauthored books include Consuming Children: Education, Entertainment and Advertising (2001), which was a Times Educational Supplement Book of the Week (UK). Haunting the Knowledge Economy (2006), published as part of Routledge's International Library of Sociology series, draws on a range of theorists to discuss the ways in which connections among knowledge, technology, and the economy are reshaping contemporary life.
Lenise Prater is a tutor in the School of Communication and Creative Arts at Deakin University in Australia. Her Ph.D. research at Monash University concerned contemporary fantasy and gender politics.
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|Author:||Rutherford, Leonie; Bullen, Elizabeth; Prater, Lenise|
|Publication:||Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2016|
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