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Abstract

This thesis examines the political dimensions of linguistic and semiotic preservation of biker subculture as it relates to race, gender, and class among contemporary bikers in the United States. Propelled by the biker colloquialism “freak out the squares” – which is used to draw boundaries of ideological and behavioral difference between bikers and the non-biker mainstream – I investigate the embodiment of this prominent attitude within the aesthetic, material, and language practices of a subcultural group of bikers who preserve a style of choppers (custom motorcycles) that originated in the post-WW2 and countercultural eras. This style historically has influenced mainstay American biker ideologies and its authentication has become evident through the working-class cultural production of motorcycles, magazines, dress, and language that reproduce sexist, racist, and xenophobic fields of signification. While this style paints bikers as stereotypically White, male, libertarian, and violent, the current communities who preserve these cultural forms aren’t always necessarily so. Faced with this tension, I investigate the biker drive to shock and scare within the terms of what Julia Kristeva calls abjection. I use ethnographic material to discuss what role abjection holds within the sexist, racist, and xenophobic linguistic and semiotic practices of this cultural style. I explicate how abjection is motivated by ideologies of class, nation, and liberty. In theorizing abjection as belonging to what I call the outlaw biker register, I document how violent semiotic usage in this register is mediated by an individual’s pragmatic and metapragmatic relationship to the perceived figure of the “square.”

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