Kiwis, Clubs and Drugs: Club Cultures in Wellington, New Zealand

By Hutton, Fiona | Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Kiwis, Clubs and Drugs: Club Cultures in Wellington, New Zealand


Hutton, Fiona, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology


Illicit drug use within club cultures has been well documented internationally, but research and scholarship about New Zealand club cultures is scarce. This article explores recreational drug use among a sample of 18-48-year-old clubbers in Wellington clubs, New Zealand in 2004-5. The normalisation thesis is used as a basis for analysis with a focus on the issues raised by this thesis. The problematic issues raised by the normalisation thesis and developed in this article were that the processes of normalisation, including current regular drug use and drug-wiseness, varies between locales and between casual, formal or reformed drug users. This reflects both variation in 'cultural accommodation of the illicit' and the nature of the diverse population represented.

Keywords: club cultures, normalisation thesis, drug use

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The use of illicit drugs such as ecstasy within club cultures has been well documented as has the development of club cultures globally (see Collin, 1997; Green, 2005; Haslam, 1999; Hunt & Evans, 2003; Hutton, 2006; Malbon, 1998; Measham, Aldridge, & Parker, 2001; Redhead, 1993; Richard & Kruger, 1998; Sanders, 2005; Saunders, 1997; Ter Bogt, Engels, Hibbel, Van Wel, & Verhagen, 2002; Thornton, 1995). Club cultures and recreational drug use are topics that are underresearched in a New Zealand context and there has been little investigation about the use of illicit substances in clubbing contexts. New Zealand studies have a tendency to focus on the mapping and prevalence of drugs such as ecstasy, cannabis and methamphetamine (see e.g., Wilkins & Sweetsur, 2008 for a discussion of the New Zealand Household Drug Surveys [NZHDS] 1998, 2001, 2003, 2006). The data contained in these surveys indicate that there have been increases in the use of drugs such as ecstasy and methamphetamines (Wilkins & Sweetsur, 2008). The NZHDS 1998 shows that 4.2% of respondents stated they had tried ecstasy, with 2.1% stating they had used it in the previous year. In the 2003 NZHDS, ecstasy use increased to 5.5% of survey respondents, although last year use decreased from 3.4% of survey respondents in 2001 to 2.9% of survey respondents in 2003 (Wilkins & Sweetsur, 2008). The 2006 NZHDS shows a further increase in ecstasy use with 8.0% of survey respondents reporting they had ever tried ecstasy and 3.9% of respondents stating that they had tried ecstasy in the last twelve months (Wilkins & Sweetsur, 2008). Methamphetamine use in New Zealand has also risen. The NZHDS found that 0.2% of participants had tried crystal methamphetamine in 1998, rising to 1.3% of all survey participants in 2002, again rising to 1.8% of all survey users in 2003. There was no change in methamphetamine use in the 2006 NZHDS (Wilkins & Sweetsur, 2008).

The Illicit Drug Monitoring Survey (IDMS), implemented in 2005, is a research tool designed to identify trends in drug use, drug availability and harms associated with the use of drugs such as ecstasy, cannabis and methamphetamines. The IDMS, 2006 showed that frequent drug users (those who had used in the past year) thought more people were using ecstasy and that it was 'fairly easy' to obtain, so the demand for, and supply of ecstasy in New Zealand has not declined amongst some social groups (Wilkins, Girling, & Sweetsur, 2007). Although both the NZNHDS and the IDMS show an increase in the use of drugs such as ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine it should also be noted that the numbers referred to as using these drugs remains small. In addition, while prevalence and mapping studies are very useful in giving 'broad brush' views of drug use they lack information about the nuances and subtleties of drug use in particular contexts.

Therefore the local is still important in acknowledging the subtleties and nuances in clubbing and drug use even though club cultures have developed internationally or globally. The meanings attached to these activities become apparent in a consideration of 'clubbing' in local contexts. …

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