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Urban Nightlife

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

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    Urban Nightlife
    Book Description:

    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? InUrban 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 Nightlifeclarifies 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.

    Watch a video with Reuben A. Buford May:Watch video now. (

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6940-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. 1 Integrated Segregation in Urban Nightlife
    (pp. 1-27)

    “Tom, come back,” I heard a woman’s voice shout.¹

    I looked in the direction of the voice and watched as a tall White man left Kilpatrick’s bar and stumbled his way through the crowd toward me. I had been standing in my usual spot with my back to the street surveying the comings and goings of patrons for a couple of hours. The yellow parking ticket box had become my leaning post for watching the street corner activity. This particular corner, the northeast corner of Reginald and Stuckey Streets, is usually alive with activity as patrons move between three popular...

  6. 2 What Is Having Fun and Who Has It
    (pp. 28-43)

    Nightlife participants seek out, as their primary goal, the opportunity to have fun, but what does that mean? For most of the participants having fun necessarily involves moving through downtown in caravanning groups that consist of two to ten participants who come together around particular social identities—for example, “athletes” or “sorority girls”—and consuming alcohol in the revelry of nightlife. As these participants move through downtown engaging in ritual games of alcohol consumption, their collective behavior enhances the lore of BSU and the reputation of downtown Northeast. It is not so much the outcome of the ritual games that...

  7. 3 Gendered Interaction, Caravanning Groups, and Social Boundaries
    (pp. 44-68)

    As one might expect, caravanning groups are typically segregated into male and female groups. This segregation facilitates interaction within the nightlife between men and women seeking to have fun by consuming alcohol and engaging in flirtation and sexual innuendo with one another. Beyond the occasional interactions among nightlife participants on the downtown streets who might identify or be identified as members of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer community, interactions in the nightlife are decidedly heteronormative. Since it is the gendered interactions between men and women that define much of the nightlife activity, it is through examining such interactions...

  8. 4 Is It a Blackout? Dress Codes in Urban Nightlife
    (pp. 69-90)

    While many passersby perceive nightclubs as urban public spaces accessible to all, these spaces are in fact privately owned and provide restricted access. Owners may limit access to individuals who meet specific criteria.¹ In practice most nightclubs are semipublic spaces where access is granted to anonymous individuals who demonstrate the willingness to comply with formal or informal rules for access.² In some nightclubs, for instance, dress codes are used to limit or grant access to particular kinds of individuals. Although Northeast is generally a social space where students can be seen wearing casual dress like blue jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts...

  9. 5 Knockout: Verbal and Physical Confrontations
    (pp. 91-123)

    In densely populated gatherings where alcoholic beverages are served and people pursue “having fun,” confrontation is bound to occur. These confrontations might stem from strangers bumping one another as they pass, arguments between friends that begin elsewhere but pick up intensity in the nightlife where people are less inhibited, or an ongoing dislike among members of various groups. Most confrontations entail brief incidental contact followed by one patron calling attention to the incident with a verbal acknowledgment like “Hey, man, you bumped me.”¹ These exchanges typically end with an apology or some gesture of reconciliation from the offending patron. Sometimes...

  10. 6 When Race Is Explicit
    (pp. 124-150)

    Like other Americans, urban nightlife participants have a well-established practice of using physical characteristics like skin color to assign others to racial categories like White, Black, Asian, or Hispanic. The tendency to identify others by physical characteristics is so engrained that persons of mixed ancestry find it difficult to claim identities other than those associated with their skin color—for instance, consider the difficulty that professional golfer Tiger Woods has experienced around his racial/ethnic identity. Despite the complexity of biological backgrounds, humans continue to rely upon simple racial classifications.¹ Such simple classifications are the basis upon which nightlife participants manage...

  11. 7 Having Fun in Black and White
    (pp. 151-162)

    Downtown Northeast, like many other urban nightlife areas, is a public space where young men and women go to have fun. Accompanied by their friends and acquaintances in caravanning groups, the patrons move from nightclub to nightclub seeking to engage one another in games of alcohol consumption and flirtation with members of the opposite sex. One main attraction of a place like downtown is the density of participants in the nightlife. Frat boys, sorority girls, athletes, locals, college students, and alternative types crowd the streets in throngs with the possibility of meeting someone new with whom they might have fun....

  12. Appendix A: A Brief History of Northeast
    (pp. 163-166)
  13. Appendix B: Methodology
    (pp. 167-180)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 181-202)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-216)
  16. Index
    (pp. 217-222)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 223-223)