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Determined to be different

Image: Zachary Scott, via Getty Images

Are thematic priorities worth the effort?

Teenage dress sense and universities’ strategic research priorities may appear to have very little in common. But both hold to a universal law that I’m going to call the Phil Ward Principle of Homogeneity: the more unique we try to be, the more uniform we appear to others.

UK Tribes, a cultural research project by the broadcaster Channel 4 to identify the nation’s youth subcultures, puts it well when it describes the loose grouping of ‘alternative tribes’ of modern Britain: “Tired of cookie-cutter celebs and how everyone at school looks the same, alternative tribes are driven by the need to set themselves apart from the mainstream. From candy-hued hair to sleeve tattoos and multiple piercings, they’re determined to be different—but do it together.”

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