I had the opportunity to present my work at the “Deutscher Kongress für Geographie” (German Congress of Geography) last week. How does a sociologist fit in there? (1) By applying for that one panel that deals with urban nightlife (organised by Jakob F. Schmid and Raphael Schwegmann) and by (2) talking about space!
I gave a short glimpse on a core topic of my thesis: the question how bouncers shape nighttime urban playgrounds by negotiating space, legal regulations, and informal rules. I tried to see and explain these three aspects as three ‘layers’ of space that can be split analytically but of course interact simultaneously in real life. You can take a look at and download my slides here: talk@dgk2015_cpreiser(english).
layer #1 | the nightclub as a physical space
Every nightclub has a spatial context, some are located in inner cities, some are at the fringes of urban centers, some can be found in rather remote areas. The location of the nightclub has to some extend an influence on the potential clientele. The more remote a nightclub, the less likely people just pass by by accident but head there on purpose. The location also has an impact on potential neighbours. A nightclub in a residential area means having neighbours that potentially complain because of the noise while nightclubs in remote areas don’t have to deal with this problem. Furthermore, it makes a difference if other nightclubs are in spatial proximity. Neighbouring nightclubs mean other bouncers nearby, means a potential network of support in cases of emergency. The architecture of the nightclub is another aspect that has an impact on the work of bouncers: What and where exactly is the door? How many dancefloors and other rooms are to be monitored? Which parts of the nightclub can be easily seen from the door and which parts can only be controlled while monitoring the nightclub and/or through information of others such as bar staff and guests?
layer #2 | the nightclub as a legal space
The nightclub as a physical space is directly linked to the nightclub as a legal space. The law distinguishes between public and private space. Nightclubs are private property which affords particular rights such as householder’s right. Householder’s right means for example that you can decide who is allowed to enter and stay in your venue and who’s not. Bouncers work against the backdrop of this right which is transfered to them by the clubowner. So, very simply put, everything that happens within the private space is the bouncers’ business while everything that happens out in public space is not.
layer #3 | the nightclub as a regulated space
The distinction between private and public space goes along with a distinction between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the nightclub. The inside and the outside are separated by ‘the line’ which is the legal border between private property and public space. There are sometimes also physical indications of the line, but first and foremost it is created in interactions, in body language, in gestures, in instructions, for example when bouncers tell people to stay behind that line “or there’ll be trouble”. In some cases, the line is used by bouncers to limit their responsibilities, while they extend the line in other cases to help people.
Bouncers regulate certain aspects of guests’ behaviour on the inside which varies from nightclub to nightclub. Also, the regulation varies within the venue. While dark corners allow some liberties, as long as they are not pursued too openly, the working spaces of club employees are regulated more strictly. Apart from the differences, five rules applied in all three nightclubs of my study: (1) no sexual harassment, (2) no pick-pocketing, (3) no drug-dealing, (4) no violence, (5) don’t annoy others. As you can imagine, some of these rules leave room for discussion and negotiation (5) while others don’t (1-4). If bouncers take note of somebody who might have been transgressing the rules, it is quite likely that they will bring that person to ‘the space between’ first. This space is still inside the nightclub, but a bit remote from the dancefloor and the crowd. Guests who are in this space have the opportunity to go back and stay in the nightclub or have to leave – depending on the outcome of the situational dynamics.
In short, bouncers’ work is constantly influenced by these three layers and the layers are influenced by the bouncers’ work. Space is more than just a physical entity but is also shaped as a social entity through bouncers and their incessant negotiation of legal regulations and informal rules.