What is So Good About Clubbing?
Hyder (1995) has argued that clubbing is one of the major forms of youth consumption and experience in towns and cities across the UK. Clubbing is so popular among the young that it is now a billion pound industry which is growing all the time, and which is indulged in by both employed and unemployed alike. Many youngsters spend their time counting the hours to Friday night when they can start dancing the weekend away, with an increasing number also becoming involved with soft drug taking.
This assignment will investigate the growing tendency for many young people to plan their lives around the clubbing scene. It will look at a number of studies on this to try and ascertain why young people feel the need to live their lives in this way and to attempt to find an answer to the question “What is so good about clubbing?”
Traditionally, sociologists regarded youth as the transition stage between childhood and adulthood. This is the generally accepted functionalist view of youth. Youth provides a link between the transmitted values of childhood and the changing values of adulthood. Eisenstadt (1956) maintained that young people dealt with this conflict through different dress styles and value sets. This helped them to deal with the transition in distinguishing themselves from their parents and at the same time it provided them with their own standards by which they would live their lives. However, functionalists did not deal with separate groups of young people, rather they saw this process as a function of everyone making that transition. Because these problems are faced by each succeeding generation of young people it leads to the development of a distinctive youth culture (Moore, 1996).
The Marxist approach however, stresses the content of youth culture and the difference in social backgrounds. Cohen (1972) undertook one of the earliest Marxist studies into what he referred to as youth subcultures. While this study was restricted to youths in East London much of what he had to say has been drawn on time and again by people working in both sociology and in cultural studies. Cohen believed that in order to truly understand youth subcultures they needed to be examined both in their immediate context and in the wider context.
Lea and Young (1984) maintain that youth subcultures reflect a multiplicity of groups that are not entirely divorced from the wider society, rather they reflect what is going on at a wider level.
The Macro/Micro and Clubbing
What is going on in the world affects how youth subcultures develop. In contemporary Britain there is a far more individualist and hedonistic attitude than at any other time since the Second World War. This hedonism or pleasure for pleasure’s sake is reflected in the increasing number of young people whose lives revolve around clubbing. Thus Cohen was right when he said that in order to understand youth subcultures one had to examine the local (micro) context and the wider (macro) context.
Increasingly clubbing is seen by many theorists as a response to and consequence of city life. Skelton and Valentine (1998) interviewed three young people who visited different clubs. The researchers found that some young people often indulged in marijuana and alcohol before visiting a club, to put them in the right mood. Ecstasy is often used in certain strands of clubbing (Saunders, 1995). The researchers found that many young people felt the need to be part of a group in a narrow context rather than a stranger in the outside world and many of them would take soft drugs in order to do this. Parker (2003) undertook a study on young people, clubbing and drug taking, in three venues in the North West of England. The first was a city centre club with a large lesbian and gay customer base, another was situated on the edge of the city and played different types of dance music, the third was originally an out of town leisure centre but now hosted different hardcore rave type events. The study was interested in young people’s safety but concentrated on those youngsters who danced and used drugs. The study sought to understand ways of researching an illegal activity on a large-scale, and in semi-private settings such as night clubs. Drug taking was common and some youngsters would be clubbing all weekend.
Other studies have found that the practices of clubbing involve their own norms and rules such as competence in movement and dancing (Crossley, 1995). Clubbers develop their own norms and rules as a means of resistance. Herman and Ott (2003) found that clubbing, and particularly rave clubs, were both sites and means of resistance for those young people who were feeling alienated from mainstream society. Although Brewster and Broughton (2000) have noted that while clubbing is good, a rave is an idealized form of clubbing because its proponents believe they are beginning something new. Herman and Ott (2003) found that clubbing, to some extent involved a loss of self as boundaries between individuals were fragmented or overcome and the clubbers became as one community. They also found that this communal sense was enhanced by the taking of ecstasy – a particular favourite of the rave clubs – because it was not just a drug, rather it raised consciousness among those who took it.
Jackson (2003) maintains that clubbing is an important social experience that deserves further explanation. As we saw earlier clubbing has its rules of movement and dance, thus clubbing is a very physical experience and this makes it an embodied experience and thus and important source of social knowledge. Clubbing is uniquely related to the city, it is part of the city at night and as Alvarez (1996) argues this is a time when the city comes alive – clubbing is an important part of that life:
Night in the city is time out – time for leisure and intimacy, family and lovers, hobbies and pastimes, reading and music and television. It is also the time for excitement and celebration: theatres, movies, concerts and party–going, wining, dining, dancing and gambling. For people who hold down boring or unsatisfactory jobs, night is the time when they feel they lead their real lives (Alvarez, 1996, p.295).
It is upon this understanding of the city and the night that clubbing is built. Clubbing makes young people feel alive it is therefore an integral part of their ‘real’ lives. Jackson (2003) maintains that contrary to much popular thinking, clubbing is not confined to youth and youth subcultures – rather it is part of the wider social mileu in which these things have their existence. Parker’s (2003) study also suggested that this might be the case as in the initial survey research some clubbers were in their fifties which can hardly be described as young. Jackson (2003) argues that having a wider age range shows the historical aspect of clubbing and how it may have changed over time.
The change from clubs as private, late night drinking establishments to places where entertainment was on the agenda and marijuana and ecstasy later became key elements of this scene, is what interested promoters in the marketability of the clubbing scene as a mainstream leisure pursuit (Jackson, 2003).
Clearly clubbing can no longer be regarded as the preserve of youth sub cultures, rather it is something that is enjoyed by a variety of groups, each of whom find something that appeals to them and is an enjoyable part of their experience. It is arguably the case that clubbing can have the effect of making a person part of an elite group. On the other hand, clubs are such that they can also provide space to individuals who are tired of the lack of this in the busy cities in which they live. Clubbing allows people to let their hair down and to indulge in alcohol, illicit soft drugs, and dancing. Clubs are a place where you can meet others or be by yourself and it is this universality of experience that makes clubbing good for a large number of people.
Alvarez, A. 1996, Night: An Exploration of Night Life, Night Language, Sleep and Dreams, London: Vintage.
Brewster, B., & Broughten, F. 2000. Last night a dj saved my life: the history of the disc jockey. New York: Grove Press.
Cohen, P 1972 Sub-Cultural Conflict and Working Class Community Working Papers in Cultural Studies No.2 University of Birmingham
Crossley, N. 1995 ‘Body techniques, agency and intercorporeality: on Goffman’s Relations in Public‘, Sociology 29, 1:133-49.
Eisenstadt, S 1956 From Generation to Generation New York, Free Press
Herman, B and Ott, B 2003 “ Mixed Messages: Resistance and Reappropriation in Rave Culture” Western Journal of Communication Vol 67 2003
Hyder, K. 1995 ‘Ecstasy’s deadly cocktails’, Observer, 13 August: 10
Jackson, P 2003 Inside Clubbing: The Art of Being Human New York, Berg
Lea, J and Young, J 1984 What is to be Done About Law and Order Harmondsworth, Penguin
Moore, S 1996 Investigating Crime and Deviance London, Collins Educational
Parker, H 2003 Dancing on Drugs The Sociological Review
Saunders, N. 1993 E for Ecstasy, London: Neal’s Yard Press.
–1995 Ecstasy and the Dance Culture, London: Neal’s Yard Press.
Skelton, T and Valentine, G eds 1998 Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Cultures London, Routledge.
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