Rowman and Littlefield International

Exploring Nightlife


Published on Monday 23 Jul 2018 by Adam Eldridge

When Jordi and I first talked about the anthology, an early concept was to collate existing papers on the night and publish a reader comprising important and now canonical work. While we still think this will make a viable project sometime in the future, Exploring Nightlife is a very different anthology. One thing we agreed on from the outset was that much of the existing nightlife literature starts with the emergence of what, in the United Kingdom, is often referred to as the ‘night-time economy’. Coming from Britain, the work is very often about a unique set of circumstances starting around the mid to late 1980s; the liberalisation of licensing laws, regeneration policies, post-industrialism, British youth cultures, and the ways that the night became seen as an opportunity for economic growth. These are, and remain, important themes in the UK, and, as the book documents, other places as well. We became increasingly interested, however, in looking at how other types of night-time spaces operated, how they were managed, and the conflicts and opportunities they experienced. Some of the ‘problems’ the night poses, such as the control of people’s leisure choices, conflict between revellers and those wanting to sleep, and the intensification of commercialism at night seemed to be occurring in a number of other international cities, but we were committed to documenting how many of the themes explored in the book, such as neo-liberalism, gentrification, leisure and the expansion of the night, are always contingent on local circumstances.

"The proposals were all of significant merit and reflected our initial feeling that night-studies was incredibly broad and of growing interest in the fields of geography, cultural studies, planning, tourism and urban studies."

After sending out a call we received more proposals than it would have been possible to publish. The proposals were all of significant merit and reflected our initial feeling that night-studies was incredibly broad and of growing interest in the fields of geography, cultural studies, planning, tourism and urban studies. It was at this time, after years of emails, that we finally met in person at a nightlife conference in Berlin, one of many such conferences that have since occurred on this subject. Against this backdrop, Zurich, London, New York, Sydney and other cities were appointing their first night-mayors while many reports were appearing about threats to or loss of nightlife spaces. This narrative of loss was especially interesting to us and represented a range of different ideas about what cities at night should be or perhaps once were – darker, brighter and more exciting, for us rather than ‘them’, free of commerce or maybe just a different type of commerce. What is deemed lost or under threat tells us a great deal about belonging, identity, and concerns with social and economic change. 

"... many reports were appearing about threats to or loss of nightlife spaces. This narrative of loss was especially interesting to us and represented a range of different ideas about what cities at night should be or perhaps once were – darker, brighter and more exciting, for us rather than ‘them’, free of commerce or maybe just a different type of commerce."

Exploring Nightlife takes an approach that recognises the breadth and complexity of the night across different cities and subject areas. Right from the introduction we state out reticence in defining what the night is, and we are upfront about how some of the chapters connect or don't, the gaps in the anthology, and that central concerns such as gentrification and regeneration land quite differently depending on local circumstances. What we’re most pleased with is how the chapters together and apart don't establish an agenda for research into the night, but offer a range of perspectives on how the night is understood, how it is managed and lived, and the debates it raises.

"What we’re most pleased with is how the chapters together and apart don't establish an agenda for research into the night, but offer a range of perspectives on how the night is understood, how it is managed and lived, and the debates it raises."

Oloukoï, opening the anthology, provides a fascinating glimpse into an area of Johannesburg known as Maboneng where the predominantly Black local businesses and residents are erased in the discourse of regeneration sweeping through the area. It is a theme very much mirrored in Koutrolikou’s study of Metaxourgeio, Athens, where the cultural industries, as represented by galleries and theatres, have moved in on an area traditionally framed by what she refers to as ‘ghetto discourses’. Van Aalst and van Liempt, from Amsterdam, point to a similar set of problems, where the red light district of Amsterdam, and the livelihoods of local sex workers, are threatened by the ever growing tourist numbers visiting the city. De Gois, from Rio de Janeiro, and Čengić and Martin-Diaz from Sarajevo also explore cases where the increasing commercial value of the night impacts on local areas and local residents. Yet while in these cases gentrification is taking a commonly understood route of displacing existing communities, Wolifson’s study of Kings Cross in Sydney provides a slightly different approach by exploring how local government has attempted to restrain the growth of nightlife in order to quell violence and produce a more aspirational area. Amid’s chapter on Mashhad, Iran, a city already known for its 24-hour culture, is similarly seeing less of an expansion of nightlife than an attempt to constrain and direct nightlife through specific regeneration policies.

Wilkinson, whose chapter examines youth drinking practices and atmospheres in suburban Manchester also departs from the night-life and gentrification narrative and takes a comparable approach to Sánchez Garcia’s work from Egypt, where the local music genre of Mahragan is played in local, working class communities. Youth cultures are also examined by Malet Calvo, Martins and Sánchez-Fuarros in Lisbon, and Giordano and Crozat from Montpellier, where both cities are dealing with increasing numbers of students. Roberts’ chapter on gender mainstreaming, and Valente, Pires, and Caravalho’s chapter on drug and harm reduction in Portugal, provide important reminders of the lived practices of the night, and need for policy guidance and leadership in dealing with different aspects of nightlife culture.

"... while the night continues to be framed as a time of pleasure and transgression, there are many other stories to be told and many other trajectories through which it becomes meaningful."

One thing that has become more apparent as the anthology has developed, as Will Straw explores in his afterword, is that the night has moved up the policy agenda internationally. With night mayors and night tsars now crossing the globe dispensing good practice, and with nightlife now a crucial component of city branding, it remains to be seen what this might mean for individual cities. What is more certain is that while the night continues to be framed as a time of pleasure and transgression, there are many other stories to be told and many other trajectories through which it becomes meaningful. The night is broad, complex and diverse and the ways economic, social, and cultural forces, branding initiatives, and regeneration policies shape the night is now an important field of enquiry. We’re confident Exploring Nightlife is a good introduction to many of those debates.