In a discussion about the punk in steampunk at The Steampunk Forum, Vagabond GentleMan from the United States raises an interesting point: steampunk can have different meanings depending on one’s location.
Vagabond GentleMan suggests that steampunk isn’t a genuine sub- or counterculture because, unlike earlier countercultures, it isn’t just scattered but divided geographically.
When a New York hippie in the 1960s traveled to San Francisco, he “pretty much found that the West Coast hippies had the same basic sociocultural mores and the same basic ethos” that he had, according to Vagabond. When punks from Los Angeles traveled to Baltimore, “they found that though there might be some superficial differences in self-presentation or philosophy, they knew the Eastern punks were gonna ‘be about’ the same sorts of things.” Same thing with Goths.
Not with steampunks.
No global community
It’s not just that there are many subgroups within the steampunk community (Neo-Victorian, Weird West, Victoriental); “steampunk” is a different thing in England than it is in France than it is in America. And even within the United States, there are differences.
Why is this relevant?
For one thing, it’s difficult to speak of a global steampunk community when location matters so much.
There is, for instance, a vibrant steampunk presence in France that’s almost completely shut off from the Anglo-Saxon experience — by language and substance. There doesn’t appear to be much discussion about “punk” in the French steampunk scene, nor is dieselpunk very popular there.
In Russia and parts of Eastern Europe, by contrast, dieselpunk is far more popular than is steampunk and the culture is altogether darker and more prone to post-apocalyptic overtones. British steampunk is clearly and logically steeped in Neo-Victorianism.
This also complicates the notion of a steampunk “movement” that’s held together by common values.
There may be a majority of steampunk enthusiasts who share a do-it-yourself ethos and an appreciation of nineteenth-century style and manners, but does this constitute a movement?
Does it mean that people who aren’t makers aren’t steampunks?
Does it mean that people who like reading steampunk novels but aren’t interested in dressing up in Victorian costumes aren’t steampunk enough?
When steampunk is a different phenomenon in one part of the world than it is in another, it may be presumptuous to speak of a “movement” and better to think of it as a “style”.