Local knowledge and subcultural capital

Airroots has a beautiful post on the architecture of luxury in Tokyo. ‘40% of luxury goods sold throughout the world every year are bought by the Japanese’, they state, ‘That’s a lot of yen. So how does that translate onto Tokyo’s urbanscape?’ Of course there are many examples of starcihtect flagshipstores in Ginza and Harajuku. But one of their more interesting observations is what they call ghetto/slum retail architecture, that comes in two styles: the disney/simulacra-style and a more vernacular style:

These are trendy stores, which emphasise the original, vernacular character of their buildings. The first example is the “Bonjour Record” store in Daikanyama. It looks like nothing but it actually really stands out in the context of the highly designed stores all around. The store doesn’t even have a sign on it, which reasserts its “underground” image. You either know it or you don’t:


Bonjour Records in Daikanyama


It reminded me of an article I read in the excellent Hong Kong Lab 2 book called Upstairs shops by Kathy Lo Pui-Yin. She describes how in Hong Kong many niche stores that cater to small subcultural audiences are found on higher levels of shopping street buildings, usually pretty well hidden. That is of course part of the fun of these stores. You can flaunt your subcultural capital not by conspicious consumption of status goods, but by being in the know about these hidden places. ‘it’s like a treasure hunt, a longing also for unscripted spaces.’

I was wondering how this relates to current research by mobile phone and gps-service companies into what they call ‘discovery’ services: the ability to use a mobile device to operationalize ‘local knowledge’ and guide you to the coolest shops, the best restaurants or cafes at a certain place. But what if the attractiveness of a place lies in the fact that it is off the radar of the unassuming crowds that pass by? It’s easy to become relatively invisible by not putting up a huge neon sign. But will there also be a stealth-mode for geotagging or discovery services? Or will this type of cultural capital, that relies on knowledge that is not supposed to transfer out of the group, wane away?

Martijn de Waal

Martijn de Waal (1972) is a writer, researcher and strategist, working in the field of digital media and (urban) culture. He is currently a senior researcher at the Play & Civic Media group at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

He has worked with and for various clients and organizations such as The Netherlands Architecture Institute, Open Society Foundation, The Architectural League of New York, Lift@Home, Kitchen Budapest, The Mondriaan Foundation and Dutch Public Broadcasting.

Formerly he was part of the New Media, Public Sphere and Urban Culture research group at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen, and connected to the department of mediastudies at the University of Amsterdam. In 2009 he was a visiting scholar at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media.

His most recent book are The City as Interface. How Digital Media Are Changing the City (NAi010 Publishers, 2014) and De Platformsamenleving (The Platform Society), co-authored with Jose van Dijck en Thomas Poell (Amsterdam University Press, 2016)