Deviance and Risk on Holiday: An Ethnography of British Tourists in Ibiza

Daniel Briggs
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.
ISBN: 978-1-137-02239-4
RRP: £58.00

Bina Bhardwa

Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Birkbeck, University of London (UK)

Drink, drugs, debauchery and deviance. Daniel Briggs offers an insightful ethnographic account of young working-class Brits on holiday in the Balearic party island of Ibiza. In what is a captivating and enjoyable read, the book is a welcomed ethnographic addition to the field—a field historically reliant on quantitative survey research and dominated by a public-health focus. Set in San Antonio’s infamous drinking strip, the West End, and adopting a critical realist stance, Briggs follows a group of young working-class men from “Southside” as they indulge in unrestrained hedonism and excessive consumption. In doing so, what unfolds is a window into San Antonio’s casualties, viewed as the victims of social conditioning in what is essentially the dystopian antithesis to “living the dream”.

Branded “the place to be” and located at the height of their “holiday career” after summers of sampling pre-packaged experiences in other European party resorts, Briggs’ status-seeking, identity-shaping subjects come to Ibiza for the “Superclubs”, the consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs and freedom from the world of work and responsibility. Briggs notes the centrality of leisure and the instrumentality of work in the lives of his research participants: “There seemed to be a general consensus in my sample that the role of work, if they had any, was to sustain leisure pursuits and that every opportunity in their youth had to be seized to celebrate the moment before either responsibility and/or old age started to interfere”(54).

However, in reality Briggs’ research participants “can’t really afford to go [to the Superclubs] so end up most nights on the West End”(8). Wrapped in an ideological blanket of market capitalism and “hyperconsumption”, critically Briggs suggests that visitors to the White Isle engage in inauthentic, “structurally conditioned” (3) experiences or what he terms “unfreedom”. Yet, by painting Ibiza-goers as passive victims of consumerism, Briggs fails to empower the consumer and in turn suggests that freedom is illusory and young consumers are culturally hypnotised by the ideology of hyperconsumption with little or no choice or resistance. Limited consideration is given to the discerning consumer or the potential of consumers to negotiate risk and self-regulate and moderate their behaviour. In stripping the agency of the working-class consumer, Briggs is in danger of homogenising working-class culture and sidelining cultural difference, a critique synonymous with subcultural theory’s past.

Early on in the book Briggs draws our attention to the limitations of his work. Critically, Briggs’ inattention to classed, ethnic and gendered diversity on the island misses the possibility of producing a number of different versions of Ibiza (Bhardwa and Moore 2014). This then reproduces the class-based stereotypes that plague both popular imagery and commentary on the island. Furthermore, the focus on problematic behaviours forfeits the pleasures associated with participation in dance music cultures (Bhardwa 2014).

In Chapter Two: The Flexible but Entirely Serious Methodology (and revisited in Chapter Eleven), Briggs outlines his position in the field as a participant observer and highlights the ethical dilemmas that accompany research with intoxicated participants. However, he notes that his transparency and reflexivity is not applauded by the academic community, who not only cast doubt on the academic worth of his research, but also remain uncomfortable with the study of pleasure. He writes, “If only I could convince some of the world’s leading drug and alcohol journals which have outright rejected my work because they considered it to be ‘unscientific’ or have accused me of ‘enjoying myself’” (208). As Briggs notes, the challenges of conducting research in dance settings raises much ethical debate—an important debate to have—and Briggs’ research is pivotal in opening up the muted dialogue.

A timely strength of the book is Briggs’ reference to the salient and perpetual role of social media and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in the production of online narratives. The pre-“holiday hype” gathers pace online, and Facebook posts consisting of photos and status updates continue to provide “live” narratives once out in Ibiza, but post-Ibiza this content is also a valuable bank of online memories.

As an essential read for any post-rave culture scholar, the book taps into a wide range of themes from identity construction and dance music culture to consumerism and the study of leisure. Through the combined use of rich fieldwork description, in-situ research and humour, Briggs has produced a fantastic, thought-provoking and highly-recommended contribution to the field.


Bhardwa, Bina. 2014. “The Construction of Dance Consumer Identities: An Exploration of Drug Use, Digital Technologies and Control in Three Dance Settings”. Ph.D. Dissertation, Lancaster University.

Bhardwa, Bina and Karenza Moore. 2014. “Ibiza Discovered? Exploring the Politics and Contesting the Practices of Contemporary Research in Ibiza”. University of Leeds (UK): British Sociological Association Annual Conference.