Constructing a Countercultural Self: A Photographic Exploration of Countercultural Identity Through Place and Space

Ben Murphy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This practice based interdisciplinary research combines photography with cultural geography to explore how contemporary international neo-nomadic countercultural identity is manifested, reinforced and maintained through customised vehicles used as homes, and other forms of makeshift self-made dwellings situated in a remote mountainous region of south-east Spain. Large format analogue photographs made in the field act as the primary source of reference and conduit through which the construction of countercultural identities are examined and explained. Theories concerning place, space, material culture and home provide a framework to approach, deconstruct and interpret the photographs to offer alternative perceptions of countercultural identity. In deliberately excluding people from the colour photographs, using diffused lighting conditions and a system that enables seeing fine details, the intention is to encourage critical evaluation without the distraction of a physical human presence. Photographs are discussed to demonstrate how place, space, and materiality contribute to the construction of a countercultural self, and provide ways in which people can indicate otherness. Analysing dwellings and habitats I draw out differences in countercultural identities. The thesis also considers how neo-nomadic countercultures can hold on to historic identities, or adapt and evolve when transposed to a foreign country. Reflecting on certain objects and materials that connect the counterculture to the industrialised world, I consider some possible contradictions and inherent paradoxes of attempting to escape the dominant society, while being entangled in it and dependent on it for survival. The purpose of this research is to contribute to the questioning and understanding of current neo-nomadic countercultural identity, through intersecting aesthetically and conceptually considered photographic practice with cultural geography and arguing for their capacity to enrich each other as a means of producing alternative understandings and progressing geographic and photographic knowledge.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hawkins, Harriet, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 20 Oct 2020


  • Counterculture
  • Photography
  • Cultural Geography
  • Place
  • Space
  • Identity
  • Hippies
  • Punks
  • Travellers
  • Dwelling
  • Home
  • Landscape
  • Materiality
  • Phenomenology

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