Spaces of Informalization: The Geography of Manners and Behaviours at Music Festivals
Thomas Maxwell Shore
This transdisciplinary research draws on findings from many areas of social science: human geography, the sociology of behaviours and manners, spatial politics as well as insights from wider philosophical and theoretical debates in spatial theory.
In the light of recent thinking within human geography (most notably Massey, 2005) about ‘space’ as a product of both human and non-human interrelations, a sphere of multiple heterogeneities, and as an imagined open trajectory very little attention has been paid to de-controlled spaces: loosely defined as spaces where self-constraint and behaviours expected of previous generations are less formalized than current ones. This recalls much of the work done by Nobert Elias in the field of sociology. Eliasian behavioural theory works from a viewpoint that the contradictory tensions between differentiation and interdependency are the central tenets of the civilising/de-civilising process. For Elias (2000, 1996) standards of behaviour are socially constructed gradually; descending over time. Conversely, one can see that spaces of informalization have the ability to be processual but also operate in more sporadic temporal and spatial registers, inhabiting space (Foucault, 1986: Soja, 1989). As Edensor (2008) argues informal spaces contain a certain ephemeral quality as well as a fragmented materiality. Post industrial ruins, former sites of festival and derelict warehouses are constantly under the constant threat of obliteration by town planners who exercise their ‘regulatory impulses to clean scrub and make clean’ (ibid, p. 286).
A detailed study into these spaces of informalization as a process seems at first quite obvious for many reasons (i.e. relaxed working dress codes, new hairstyles, experimental music, spoken language, the emergence and popularity of ‘TXT SPK’, the decreasing differences between middle and working classes standards of conduct etc. (Wouters, 1986, 2007)). Closer inspection of these concepts shows us that behaviours and manners are constantly constituted and re-constituted through space, and that looser self-constraints occur more or less freely in particular spaces than in others. Informal spaces have therefore the capability to create multiple dialectical tensions or spiral movements whereby ‘waves of informalization have been followed by new waves of formalization, but in a long term perspective from the end of the last century onwards a spiral movement can be discerned in which informalizing tendencies had the upper hand’ (ibid, p.5). With this in mind we can see that formal social spaces are able to become re-appropriated, re-formulated and re-coded. For Henri Lefebvre (1991a) this is an integral to the production of urban space – describing this process of spatial informalization with reference to the Halles Centrales, Paris – a space that was originally ‘designed to facilitate the distribution of food, [which] was transformed into a gathering-place and a scene of permanent festival – in short, into a centre of play rather than of work – for the youth of Paris’ (p. 167).
2. Research Aims
The purpose of this research is to build upon the Eliasian framework – in a more critically engaged spatial context – in order to explore the geography of the music festival as a space of informalization. Musical geography has increased in popularity over the last fifteen years with particular focus on its place within an urban setting ( Smith, 1994, Leyshon et al, 1995, Connell and Gibson, 2003, Hudson, 2006, Krims, 2007) historical geographies of nationhood and identity (Revill, 2000, Jazeel, 2005), emotive experiences and embodiment (Kruse, 2003, Wood & Smith, 2004), the sensuous production of spatiality (Cohen, 1998, DeNora, 2000), transgressiveness of space (Valentine, 1995). Cultural events and music festivals provide a clear break from the recognized ordinariness of everyday life (Lefebvre, 1991b, Highmore 2002), on occasion act as cultural commodities for the development of national identities (Waterman, 1998), and also perform as hubs of experiment for the mental, haptic, auditory and visual registers (Rycroft, 1998).
As a potential space of inquiry music festivals are able to blur the lines of representation operating somewhere between a ‘primitive’ and ‘civilised’ gathering-space, or in Lefebvrian terms a ‘centre of play and festivities rather than of work’. Indeed, by investigating the complexity of social relations contained within the festival and multiple understandings of manners contained within these spaces, the research aims to explore the increasing behavioural and emotional alternatives that are embodied through material practises in these spaces. Specifically, within the Eliasian framework it may be possible to investigate the way that behaviours and manners become informalized before, during and after the festival. Indeed, there are a large number of ‘things that were once forbidden that are now permitted’ that occur regularly at music festivals these include (Elias, 1996, p. 31):
· public shows of affection between couples
· diminishing levels of personal hygiene
· fancy dress, costumes or ‘androgynous’ appearance
· flashes of nudity
· clapping or cheering a performer
· heckling or booing a performer
· ‘moshing’ in the ‘pit’
· ‘crowd surfing’
· impromptu musical performances or ‘guerrilla gigs’
· campfires or communal gatherings
· urinating in a public space
· acts of sexual promiscuity
· illicit drug dealing, open drug use and binge drinking
Collectively, these behaviours suggest a looser standard of behaviours becomes permissible when attending a music festival and illustrates the complex range of social relations contained within these spaces. As Rycroft (1998) outlines, music festivals are linked closely to the waves of informalization as described by Wouters (1986). Informal outdoor “happenings” in Los Angeles became important spaces of informalization during the 1960s/1970s – experimenting essentially with the boundaries of acceptability (Kilminster, 2008). As an integral part of the youth counter-culture of the time no formal charge was administered for entrance to these events where marginalised ‘underground’ informal communities created new radical ways of performing and were self-constraints of previous generations were relaxed considerably.
Furthermore, in addition to this, the research is keen to explore the politics of spatial behaviours at large festivals such as Glastonbury were multiple stage/performing areas offering a greater diversity and variety of experience exist. Movement from one performance area to another invokes feelings of being in constant flux. This is in contrast to smaller more traditional festivals where a single stage/performance area is used where musical performance is negotiated in a more static stood/seating position. Within the Eliasian behavioural framework it is hoped that the outcome of this research will greatly influence the way that spatialisation of informalization will inform debates surrounding the geography of manners and how behavioural geography is conceptualised specifically at music festivals and at cultural events more broadly.
- Research Questions
- To establish if/where specific informal spatial correlates/differences exist at music festivals and the difference that spatial context makes to processes of informalization?
- Can a historical geography of music festivals reveal behavioural and emotional alternatives that contribute to these spaces of informalization?
- Can a reconsideration of Eliasian theory explain more broader social processes and the nature of different groups (generations, sexes, social, racial) and changes linked to the governance of conduct (self and social) at music festivals?
- Methods and Procedures
Provisionally, the structure of the research will be split into two parts: the first part of the research will involve a process of extensive archiving the geographical history of music festivals, investigating old and new ways in which music festivals have become informal spaces, and from this study of secondary data as many as three case study music festivals will be indentified for further investigation. It is hoped that a historical understanding of musical festivals and standards of behaviour will help piece together the Eliasian approach to spaces of informalization. At this early stage it is too soon to establish which music festivals would be of most benefit to this particular research project. Festival organisers will be contacted in advance to gain full access to festival sites before, during and after these events. During this analysis archival material photographs, music magazines describing ‘festival etiquette’, video footage, sound recordings and personal accounts of music festivals, will all be considered as valuable sources of qualitative data that tells us much about the way in which behaviours are socially constructed in space. Once all these sources have been adequately exhausted the second part of the research will involve active engagement with primary source material. Work in the ‘field’ lends itself naturally to an ethnographic study of different groups. This primary data will be supplemented with interviews including festival organisers, musicians, artists, festival goers, and the general public (Bryman, 2004).
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