Urban Nightlife: Entertaining Race, Class, and Culture in Public Space

Urban Nightlife: Entertaining Race, Class, and Culture in Public Space

Urban Nightlife: Entertaining Race, Class, and Culture in Public Space

Urban Nightlife: Entertaining Race, Class, and Culture in Public Space

Synopsis

Sociologists have long been curious about the ways in which city dwellers negotiate urban public space. How do they manage myriad interactions in the shared spaces of the city? In Urban Nightlife, sociologist Reuben May undertakes a nuanced examination of urban nightlife, drawing on ethnographic data gathered in a Deep South college town to explore the question of how nighttime revelers negotiate urban public spaces as they go about meeting, socializing, and entertaining themselves.

May's work reveals how diverse partiers define these spaces, in particular the ongoing social conflict on the streets, in bars and nightclubs, and in the various public spaces of downtown. To explore this conflict, May develops the concept of "integrated segregation"--the idea that diverse groups are physically close to one another yet rarely have meaningful interactions--rather, they are socially bound to those of similar race, class, and cultural backgrounds. May's in-depth research leads him to conclude that social tension is stubbornly persistent in part because many participants fail to make the connection between contemporary relations among different groups and the historical and institutional forces that perpetuate those very tensions; structural racism remains obscured by a superficial appearance of racial harmony.
Through May's observations, Urban Nightlife clarifies the complexities of race, class, and culture in contemporary America, illustrating the direct influence of local government and nightclub management decision-making on interpersonal interaction among groups.

Excerpt

What happens when groups of nightlife participants from different racial, class, and cultural backgrounds come together in urban public space to have fun? Sociological studies provide a glimpse into the use of urban public space, and even urban nightlife, yet none of them explicitly answer this question. This is curious given the existence of nightlife areas in most cities, the diversity of nightlife participants in many of those areas, and the significant influence that nightlife areas can have on other aspects of life in the city.

In Urban Nightlife, I draw on ethnographic data gathered in downtown Northeast, Georgia (a pseudonym)—a city recognized nationally for its urban nightlife—to answer the question of what happens in this kind of shared public space. I explore the interactional dynamics occurring as diverse groups of nightlife participants move through the public streets and the nightclubs in pursuit of fun. I discover that despite the popular perception that diverse groups are engaged in harmonious interaction with one another, as some scholars have suggested, these groups are in fact engaged in ongoing social conflict on the streets and in the nightclubs. This conflict manifests in the ways that groups talk about, and act, on meanings of race; the ways that men and women pursue one another in games of flirtation and sexual innuendo; the ways that nightclub owners, bouncers, and patrons evaluate social class; and the ways that participants communicate their cultural sensibilities through consumption of particular clothes, venues, and music.

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