“Burning the bridges”: escalation in the pursuit of authenticity
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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- Scientific articles 
Original versionTheory and society. 2022, . 10.1007/s11186-022-09477-1
We develop a process-based framework, articulating the escalation of difference between “private” self and “public” display as an alternative trajectory in the pursuit of authenticity to alignment and compromise. A parsimonious model presents an endogenous dynamic of binary choice that generates momentum toward polarization. The model is illustrated in the context of “black” metal – a branch of heavy metal music that appeared in Norway in the early 1990s, notorious for its involvement in criminal activities. Using fanzine data, we construct a narrative of how a process of escalation led to innovation and transgression through self-selection and exclusion. The analysis addresses two related theoretical problems – what motivates actors to challenge normative scripts and “burn the bridges” to social acceptance, and why such challenges may prove more effective in achieving recognition than compromise. Examples from politics, culture and sports reinforce the importance of these problems.