Club Cultures: Boundaries, Identities and Otherness. Silvia Rief. New York and Abingdon, Routledge, 2009.
ISBN: 978-0-415-95853-0 (hardcover only)
RRP: UK£70.00 (hardcover)

review by Fiona Hutton

University of Wellington (New Zealand)

In introducing her book Silvia Rief makes the point that clubbing has become a global phenomenon which takes place in diverse settings such as street parades and music festivals. Whilst clubbing may have "gone global", the local remains crucial when exploring such diversity. Rief aims to examine club cultures and "particular modes of being and experience" in the shaping of cultural and social identities (8), and in so doing argues that the study of club cultures needs to be placed within broader contexts such as de-industrialisation, urban regeneration and the development of urban night time economies (NTEs). The book reflects on the development of the NTEs and the importance of clubbing in both London and Istanbul. In addition Rief utilises debates about authenticity, aestheticization, virtualization, reflexivity and Otherness to develop her analysis. This is an ambitious project encompassing many diverse topics that reveal fascinating insights into contemporary club cultures.

In Chapter Two Rief compares London and Istanbul and the urban regeneration that took place in both cities which contributed to the development and governance of the NTE and in turn had a significant effect on club cultures. Clubbing was actively encouraged in London's urban redevelopment and the importance of nightlife in the tourism industry was recognised; in Istanbul this emphasis on nightlife was not as explicit due to the Islamist ruling government. This chapter contains an excellent discussion of the tensions in the development of the NTEs of both cities. The explosion in British urban NTEs and the issues surrounding so-called "binge drinking" have meant that nightlife has become re-problematised. A fascinating examination of the development of clubbing in Istanbul is also put forward; Rief notes for example that social divisions are very much in evidence, with clubbing more often than not associated with "upmarket events for wealthy middle-class and celebrity audiences" (51).

Following this discussion of urban renewal and its impact on the development of London's and Istanbul's nightlife, Rief turns to mapping the UK NTE in Chapter Three, arguing that the role of clubbing and dance cultures has received little attention in such exercises. The difficulty in accurately mapping the UK NTE and the cultural production industries involved is highlighted at the beginning of this chapter. These cultural production industries consist of micro-companies which do not appear on "established indicators" (58) and therefore often escape notice. Writers such as Chatterton and Hollands (2003) are pessimistic about the domination of clubbing and nightlife by large companies and the corporatization of clubbing experiences. Rief does not share their pessimism and while she recognises the power of large companies in this competitive sector she argues that even in global markets the local is still important, apparent in the diversity of club cultures within and between various towns and cities. Chapter Three also charts the history of major UK club corporations such as the Ministry of Sound and discusses the rising costs of producing club spaces. Rief also considers legislation such as the Licensing Act 2003 which affected the way club spaces are or can be produced. She concludes this chapter by stating that "the economic significance of the nightclub sector is considerable but not extraordinary" (76), again highlighting that the sector contains a large number of small independent companies. Although I agree with Rief that it is useful to consider club cultures in their broader social and cultural contexts, I did find myself wondering what these economic policies and issues meant for the consumers of club spaces.

With this in mind I started Chapter Four with relish; here Rief discusses the (clubbing) body and the organisation of clubbing experiences. She makes the point that clubbers immerse themselves in club cultures for different reasons and that many clubbers are still connected to the "everyday" (83). This challenges the idea that clubbers and clubbing experiences are always hedonistic and escapist. In addition Rief highlights that ‘everyday' values infuse clubbing spaces, which in a sense are similar to (some) "everyday" contexts. This affects "body and emotion work" (82) through for example controlling bodily appearance and managing impressions. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the nightclub queue and during the rituals of "going out". Rief provides further discussion of clubbing communities as contested communities in which participants struggle for membership, partly through rituals of belonging and gaining access. Chapter Four focuses on the rules and conventions of clubbing where Rief notes that fashion and dancing provide avenues through which bodies are accepted or rejected according to the conventions of the spaces they are in. She notes that even in club spaces that are more transgressive than the workplace or home, there remain social codes to be adhered to.

Chapter Four contains a nuanced theoretical discussion centring on ideas such as aestheticization and prosthetic culture. This work theoretically frames the preceding discussion of the body and goes on to consider how these processes of aestheticization affect constructions of reality in clubbing environments. This is an ambitious project to situate clubbing in a broader theoretical framework. Consequently it is often difficult to see how the experiences of clubbing as articulated by Rief's respondents "fit" with this abstract discussion. Perhaps better integration and linking of these theoretical points to clubbing would have helped the "fit" be more clearly identifiable. Rief moves on in Chapter Five to a discussion of reality/realities of clubbing experiences and the "dance underworld" (110). The normalisation thesis is considered in the clubbing context in this chapter. Rief puts forward the idea that drug use in clubs is not fully normalised as her interviewees still associated drug-taking with transgression and fear of dependency. Although I am not sure that I agree with Rief's interpretation here, it is helpful to see a "moving on" of key academic debates. Attitudes towards drug use and the meanings of drug-taking experiences are also presented as profoundly gendered in this chapter. Further consideration is given to clubbers' meanings and experiences in Chapter Six. "Identity projects" (132) frame clubbing experiences as a form of self development and self-realisation in relation to issues such as love and romance. The meanings of clubbing are classed, raced and gendered. Theoretical and empirical material is more successfully integrated within this chapter. Again, explicit linking of the narratives that run through Chapters Four to Six may have helped the reader clearly identify how the debates being put forward relate specifically to clubbing.

Chapter Seven focuses on images of sexuality or sexual scenarios in two prominent clubbing magazines; Mixmag and Ministry. Rief points to the crucial role (154) that clubbing and nightlife play in the construction of sexual boundaries and also notes the blurring of sexual boundaries identified by earlier researchers (Pini 2001; Measham et al 2001; Hutton 2006). The dominance of heterosexual identities and heteronormative structures are noted here, even though clubbing environments are often seen as more tolerant of diverse expressions of sexuality. Rief argues that heteronormativity is not affected by the sexual scenarios she identifies in the two magazines under consideration; "naughty girls" and "hot lesbo action" (160-2), with such scenarios or images of transgressive femininities remaining firmly located within heterosexual feminine identities.

Rief extends this discussion of sexualities in Chapter Eight by considering the extent to which sexual boundaries are made or re-made in clubbing contexts. The tensions inherent in the commodification of gay and lesbian spaces are discussed and the idea that clubs are contested spaces is reinforced. Controls on who gains entry through door management and judgements made about consumers within club spaces are filtered through "heteronormative discourses in the reading of (hetero)sexuality" (183) deployed by gay and lesbian clubbers themselves. This dominance of heteronormativity is emphasised in Chapter Nine where Rief concludes that "there is, therefore, no one-dimensional change of gender relations and sexual boundaries in club cultural spaces towards more equality and acceptance of diversity" (192).

Overall this ambitious book locates clubbing experiences within the broader economic, social and cultural contexts in which they are constructed. Rief calls for a refocusing of clubbing research away from a concentration on clubbers' experiences towards a more comparative, systematic approach. Although at times this way of considering club cultures did not quite "work" for me, the moving forward of debates about club cultures and original insights and suggestions for further research are welcome. This book is suitable for any club researcher wishing to access an informed discussion about the NTE, urban regeneration, bodies, sexuality and club spaces.


Chatterton, Paul and Robert Hollands. 2003. Urban Nightscapes: Youth Cultures, Pleasure Spaces and Corporate Power. London: Routledge.

Hutton, Fiona. 2006. Risky Pleasures: Club Cultures and Feminine Identities. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing.

Measham, Fiona, Judith Aldridge and Howard Parker. 2001. Dancing on Drugs: Risk, Health and Hedonism in the British Club Scene. London: Free Association Books.

Pini, Maria. 2001. Club Cultures and Female Subjectivity: The Move from Home to House. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.