Teenage Kicks: Cultural Approaches to Dr Martens boots

With Cath Davies, we looked  at the ideas of analysing all aspects of art and design from a cultural perspective beyond that of functionality. It wasnt really a lecture about Dr Martens boots but a way of thinking and dissecting meanings inherent within objects and how we can think about objects in relation to narratives in relation to identity. We only looked at Dr. Martens  boots as a way of thinking through some concepts in our own practice or to help us to think about how we use objects in our practice either designing or making objects. The key concept was to think about how objects are embedded with meaning that are beyond its function.


blog_ln_1197Dr. Martens boots are a brand and an object that we are familiar with. Its function is to keep our feet warm and dry and this keynote lecture was there to suggest there are far more meanings embedded in these particular boots and brand and it made us think when we take an object or an image how we would go about finding different ways of thinking about that object.

One of the key concepts that we looked at was the notion of objects having a cultural biography (Kopytoff, 1986). According to Kodpytoff, objects are a “culturally constructed entity, endowed with culturally specific meanings”, (Kopytoff, 2001, p.68). And this is important as one of our jobs as artists is to consider, culturally specific meanings within our work and other people’s work to. So when we are identifying a cultural biography, simply what we are looking at is “what are recognised ‘ages’ or periods in the life and what are the cultural markers for them”, (Kopytoff, 2001, p.66).

Looking at wider contexts of meaning that all of us to think about new meanings that in relation to objects and our own practice researching wider contexts and coming to our objects and work, having identified new concepts in wider research.

How to identify “cultural markers”:

  • Investigate its status within different periods and cultures
  • Investigate its production process who made it, for what purpose?
  • What role it played at different stages of its career?
  • Why has its usage changed over time? What are the contexts for this development?
  • What are the different connotations/associations that are attributed to the objects?

Dr. Martens boots original incarnation as workwear due to functional design. However, from the 60s onwards, the brand adopted by youth street scenes who were attracted to the anti-fashion characteristics of the initial workwear branding. Youth scenes, such as, Skinheads and Mods in the 60s, Punk, Two Tone/Ska revival/skinhead revival in the 70s, Goth, Psychobilly (punk and rockabilly fusion) in the 80s and Gruge and Britpop in the 90s, in which inscribed the brand with non-conformity connotations through its alterative function as part of youth subcultural apparel (the very opposite of its original function).

Dr Martens Visual History

The idea of how an object can change when taking away the function is quite amazing. Customisation is something we see all the time in fashion, the ability to adapt something to your own tastes, is really interesting as the Dr. Martins acted as a blank canvas. People modified them differently throughout the years to create a statement. This is something they never thought of as a brand and this has become their identity. From this you can see now that is their clear unique selling point.



Published by


BA (Hons) Final Year Ceramics student at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Love experimenting with material and techniques and work on a range of medium.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s