PhD Proposal


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.

  1. 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?
  1. 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).

  1. References

Bryman, A. (2004) Social Research Methods. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Cohen, S. (1998) ‘Sounding Out the City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place’, in Leyshon, A., Matless, D. and Revill, G., The Space of Music, New York: Guilford Press, 269-291

Connell, J. and Gibson, G. (2003) Soundtracks: Popular Music, Identity and Place, London: Routledge

DeNora, T. (2000) Music in Everyday Life, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Edensor, T. (2008) ‘Obliterating Informal Spaces: The London Olympics and the Lea Valley: A Photo Essay’, Space and Culture, 11, 285-293

Elias, N. (2000) [1939] The Civilising Process (revised ed.) trans. Jephcott, E. Oxford: Blackwell

Elias, N. (1996) The Germans: Power Struggles and the Development of Habitus in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, New York: Columbia University Press

Foucault, M. (1986) ‘Of Other Spaces’, Diacritics, 16 (1), 22-27

Highmore, B. (2002) Everyday Life and Cultural Theory: An Introduction, London and New York: Routledge

Hudson, R. (2006) ‘Regions and Place: Music, Identity and Place’, Progress in Human Geography, 30 (5), 626-634

Jazeel, T. (2005) ‘The World is Sound? Geography, Musicology and British-Asian Soundscapes’, Area, 37 (3), 233-241

Kilminster, R. (2008) ‘Narcissism or Informalization?: Christopher Lasch, Nobert Elias and Social Diagnosis’ Theory, Culture and Society, 25: 131-151

Krims, A. (2007) Music and Urban Geography, London: Routledge

Kruse, R. (2003) ‘Imagining Strawberry Fields as a Place of Pilgrimage’, Area, 35 (2), 154-162

Lefebvre, H. (1991a) The Production of Space. trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blackwell

Lefebvre, H. (1991b) Critique of Everyday Life, vol. 1. trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Verso: London

Leyshon, A., Matless, D. and Revill, G. (1995) ‘The Place of Music’, Transactions of the Institution of British Geographers, 20, 423-433

Massey, D. (2005) For space. London: Sage

Revill, G. (2000) ‘Music and the Politics of Sound: Nationalism, Citizenship, and Auditory Space’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 18, 597-613

Rycroft, S. (1998) ‘Global Undergrounds: The Cultural Politics of Sound and Sight in Los Angeles, 1965-1975, in Leyshon, A., Matless, D. and Revill, G., The Space of Music, New York: Guilford Press, 222-249

Smith, S. (1994) ‘Soundscape’, Area, 26 (3), 232-240

Soja, E. (1989) Post-Modern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso

Valentine, G. (1995) ‘Creating Transgressive Space: The Music of kd lang, Transactions of the Institution of British Geographers, 20, p.474-486

Waterman, S. (1998) ‘Culture and identity: summer music in Upper Galilee’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 23 (2), 253-267

Wood N., and Smith, S .J. (2004) ‘Instrumental routes to emotional geographies’ Social and Cultural Geography, 5, 533 – 548

Wouters, C. (1986) ‘Formalization and informalization: changing tension balances in civilising processes’ Theory, Culture and Society, 3 (2), 1-18


9 responses to “PhD Proposal

  1. I need to write a proposal as good as that at least! Actually I came across a material on an art festival in the States. you might find useful.

    Pike, Sarah (2000)
    “Desert Gods, apoclyptic art and the making of sacred space at the Burning Man Festival” in God in the details; popular religion and everyday life, eds. K. Mccarthy and E. Mazur.

    It’s about people’s attitudes toward that festival and treated it as some sort of a ritual. A sense of escapism as well as it provides them a space of liberation that they cannot find outside the festival.
    Have a look!

    • thomasmaxwellshore

      Hi Xim,

      Thank you for your comments and the link to the article. I’ll be sure to check it out. Please send me any rough drafts of your proposal and I will try and point you in the right direction. Re: the ‘proposal’ it’s all about the language that you use – make sure its extremely well written, concise, and to the point. Make sure you know what it is you want to study, a general area of study, or gaps in current literature bode well, but make use of such statements as ‘provisionally’ the methodology will do this or ‘at this stage it is unknown. Also contact your potential supervisors and get them to suggest reading lists for you to review.


  2. Have you ever thought about adding a little bit more than just your articles? I mean, what you say is important and everything. Nevertheless think of if you added some great visuals or video clips to give your posts more, “pop”! Your content is excellent but with images and clips, this blog could certainly be one of the greatest in its field. Excellent blog!

  3. Thanks, I was amazed by this blog post. I found this post using Yahoo search, and certainly liked taking time to read it, so I’ll probably drop through again within a month and read up on what’s new (: Thanks!

  4. Not too long ago I came across this blog and have enjoyed the content. I look forward to long term content and can certainly link to this and inform the people. Thank you.

  5. I keep listening to the news speak about getting free online grant applications so I have been looking around for the best site to get one.:)

  6. I was suggested this blog by means of my bro. I am not sure whether or not this publish is written by means of him as no one else understand such precise about my problem. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

  7. I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time… however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues. Check my blog: High Waist Shorts

  8. metzler walmart tires

    I believe this website holds some really wonderful information for everyone : D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s