Respect and motor cycle associations

Just quickly, so I can get this out of my head and limp my very sick car down to get a service (very tempting to just get rid of the car altogether, but then I would be even less likely to spend time getting out of the city, never be able to offer anybody a lift and I would never be able to transport things too big to carry).

There has been a bit of talk on the radio about the move to outlaw Hells Angels in NSW, and what the ‘outlaw’ motorcycle clubs are doing to fight this (e.g. ). While motorcycle associations may not seem to be a bit of a tangent for me to go down, I think it is an interesting concrete example to think with.

The organisation that was kind enough to let me do my field work there as part of my honours research was the organisation that had been founded to support the work done by God’s Squad, a Christian motorcycle association. The founder of this now international association, John Smith, had a strong emphasis on the ‘counter cultural’ in his writing and those talks I saw him give. He had done PhD research (in anthropology at a Christian university) on the Jesus People movements, but in his younger days he was what could possibly be seen as a hippy-Christian – he grew his hair, wore jeans, had a bit of an open house (and then Church) policy and went to music festivals where they would baptise people. I think he still is rather radical, but I suppose with the amount of change Protestant churches have seen, it is no longer so revolutionary.

See, there are different types of motorcycle association, and the ‘outlaw’ clubs are also called the ‘2%ers’ because they have certainly not been in the majority. Arthur Veno is an academic who spent a large amount of time researching motorcycle clubs, and he has written a book (Veno 2003) which really, from my memory, undercuts many of the more sensationalist claims about the ‘2%ers’. A new edition of Veno’s The Brotherhoods came out this year. According to the image of the front cover found on Google Books, it is updated to include the new Sydney anti-bikie laws.

John Smith has spent a lot of time getting to know, and be accepted by, 2%ers and last year he wrote an essay titled ‘Bikers, violence and justice’. He starts with the story of Easter and then goes on to argue that there is an admirable quality in the willingness of the 2%ers to challenge the state. Smith calls for peace making, and does not deny that there has been violence between 2%ers, but ultimately he is against NSW’s laws, especially since based on Jesus’ example associating with felons is not a reason to condemn someone.

I saw a small segment on TV a while back (perhaps on Hungry Beast?) where a reporter went along to a meeting of the council where various NSW 2%er groups are gathering together. The snippets shown included a few people talking about ‘respect’, and someone made mention that the meetings are a good opportunity to work out any perceived disrespect in order to reduce violence. This I found very interesting, because people I know living some really tough lives also speak a lot about respect, while it is something that does not seem to factor in day-to-day conversations between the students at uni I know.

Now, this post is messy and I am just going to chuck it up there without fixing it all up because I need to get a move on, but I am left wondering whether it is worth tracing through different notions and experiences of structure/ agency in the lives of those who are seen as socially excluded compared to those who would be considered part of the dominating classes, and also the state’s notions of safe and unsafe types of belonging.

Smith, J. 2009. Bikers, violence and justice. John Smith Quarterly Essay 2:1-4. [you can download this from ]

Veno, A. 2003. The Brotherhoods: Allen & Unwin.


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