Critcher, C. (2000) '" Still raving": social reaction to Ecstasy', in Leisure Studies, vol 19: 145 - 162.
Rave culture has a complex history. It appeared in a public form in 1988 in the form of illegal parties, originally connected to 'Acid House', a particularly technological form of dance music associated with 'American black and gay club culture', and featuring DJs rather than live bands (146). Ecstasy appeared in the 1960s, and became an illegal drug in the 1970s: drug dealers gave it the name. It was made illegal in the USA in 1985 (in the UK from 1977). British musicians popularised it, and knowledge spread through various articles in The Face during the late 1980s. Ibizan holidays brought together the characteristic mix '"Ecstasy plus house music equals mass euphoria"' (citing Collin, Critcher page 146). It got established in London nightclubs and was popularised further by i-D magazine. Already, by 1989, 'Ecstasy became commercial, popular and overground to the disillusionment of its original adherents' (147). Originally venues were urban warehouses, and later rural venues. The legal scene became organised by entrepreneurs using mobile phones to reveal addresses.'Profits were alleged to be £50,000 at a time' (147). Raves became unique gatherings with 'larger than average venues; music with 120 or more beats per minute; distinctive dress codes; extensive special effects... and ubiquitous drug use' (147).
Rave culture seemed to offer a new experience, with an absence of 'Alcohol, confrontation and sexual encounters' (147): male attitudes were initially softened, 'but subsequent hardening' took place, and alcohol reappeared (147). Participants were agreed to be young, but the extensive inclusiveness is disputed (by Thornton in particular, who suggests that 'ravers were primarily white, working-class and heterosexual' page 147). Above all though, rave varied according to its location -- upmarket in the West End, working-class in the East End, and with mixtures of students in Manchester. Rave also became diffused into many sub categories '"split along fault lines of class, culture, area, musical preference and drugs of choice"' (Critcher, page 148, quoting Collin). For example, 'hard core' featured 'faster harder beats; white gloves; Vicks rub [what the hell for?]; working-class male [participants]', while jungle appeared as the choice of British black people (148). Rave eventually became incorporated into clubbing with the growth of specialist magazines, the emergence of dance music on public broadcasting, and the investment by brewers in youth and clubbing. Rave imagery became well known, and Ecstasy emerged as a large scale recreational drug culture.
Social reaction soon emerged. The media gradually became hostile after well-publicised Ecstasy deaths. Drug dealing became a major focus for press stories. Hostile media coverage declined and then re-emerged following events such as the appearance of 'harm reduction leaflets in January 1992' [important implications for Glover's preferred policy here], and the well publicised death of Leah Betts. Incorporation into clubbing reduced hostile media coverage again.
Raving became subject to a number of increased attempts at legal control. Initially, existing laws were used to attempt to forbid licensing, but this clearly did not effect private or illegal raves. The police then resorted to strategies to control public disorder, including intelligence gathering activities that have been pioneered during the policing of the miners' strike of 1984. Mass arrests already looked unsuitable given the scale of the activity, so local authorities were urged to enforce health and safety regulations and the regulation of telephone usage. Individual attempts were made to increase existing penalties for unlicensed public entertainment. In 1994 the Criminal Justice Act and Public Order Act attempted to make rave illegal, along with other targeted groups, such as new-age travellers. Raves were defined as gatherings of more than 100 people where music was played featuring 'the emission of the succession of repetitive beats' (150). Police powers to arrest trespassers and control traffic were substantially increased.
These unusually authoritarian powers were mostly used against road protesters initially, while new-age travellers had declined anyway [especially after a police riot that attacked a new-age convoy heading for Stonehenge]. Rave was specifically singled out by a 1997 Act which 'permitted local authorities to revoke night club licences on the word of police that drug-taking or dealing was thought to be occurring on the premises' (150).
Critcher sees this legislation as featuring 'three interlinked but ultimately distinct sub-plots: those of new-age travellers, rave and Ecstasy' (151). The effects were probably greater for travellers, while raves were so popular and sustained that some accommodation with them was inevitable. They were licensed, relocated, moved indoors. The authorities lifted restrictions on nightclub hours to permit this transition. Ecstasy use also remained unresolved: massive police action would have been required and would have resulted in widespread criminalisation.
The notion of a moral panic might be applied. Critcher cites Cohen's famous definition, and tries to identify how it might fit -- for example, the necessary 'folk devils' were seen as evil drug dealers (not the ravers themselves), and Cohen's sequence can be used to describe media interest as it waxed and waned. However, Critcher points out that there were three interlinked moral panics as above, with distinctive action taken for each. Media reaction was more diverse as well, with only the tabloids fitting the classic pattern. Broadsheets and broadcasting took a more ambiguous line which 'forestalled endorsement of a moral panic' (153): for example, broadsheet papers were more supportive of harm reduction and health education strategies.
Overall, despite criticisms (that social reaction is not monolithic, and that the audience is more sophisticated and less manipulable by the media) [see McRobbie and Thornton] the notion of a moral panic can still explain some of the main features if suitably modified. The case study of rave shows more sophistication, including 'The pragmatic and compromised nature of the ultimate solution -- incorporation of the rave into clubbing', and the sheer size of the recreational activity itself (154). On this specific occasion, the police, tabloid press and governing party did not operate in a concerted campaign, and there was 'some organised and articulated opposition' (154).
Another option is to explore the notion of risk society. Certainly rave culture is 'surrounded by the language of risk': one source cited suggests that the risks have been killed by Ecstasy are 'around one in 7 million, about the same level of risk as a fairground ride and much lower than other mainstream leisure activities such as skiing or parachuting' (154). Risk in sociology has emerged as a major interest, although analyses of leisure are much less common. Lupton (1909) attempts to apply these notions to leisure activities. The emergence of risk is explained in the usual way [in terms of disembedding and the emergence of new risks, and the centrality of risk as a way to define self]. This work can be applied to understanding social reactions to rave culture in particular. Raving disrupt the usual ways in which risks are regulated, especially risks located in the body. Foucault is used here to explain the shift towards voluntary regulation and self surveillance. Drug-taking is seen as the abandonment of this form of regulation. This also explains the popularity of campaigns to reintroduce self regulation for drug-takers, rather than punitive ones. Ravers also offer an alternative to the disciplined body --'the subversion of the ordered, restrained, chemically pure and self-contained body' (156) had to be met with a strong social reaction [curiously, no mention of hegemony in any of this].
Raving also challenges conventional views of the 'disembodied rational actor' (Critcher page 156 quoting Lupton). The pleasures of reembodiment or collective embodiment are seen as uncivilised [no mention of 'flow' here, but an interesting possibility to explore that state via Bourdieu on the bourgeois disdain for the body and the fear of the loss of self-control?]. Thus rave culture 'represented a symbolic dissent from dominant discourses about the need to minimise risk through bodily management' (156). However, this explanation does not match with the perspectives of ravers themselves, who often underestimate risks rather than taking it as central. Other characteristics such as '"reflexivity" and " individuation" which both Beck and Giddens see as... essential' are also not reflected in rave (157).
In order to understand the participants'perspective, ethnography seems better. Drug use has been rising among the young, and Parker et al are cited here on the normalisation process. Ecstasy played a major part in normalising illegal drugs. However, the values of rave also need investigation. Critcher begins by summarising Young on hippy culture as a reaction to 'formal work values... Subterranean (leisure) values comprised: short-term hedonism, spontaneity, ego expressivity, autonomy... new experience/excitement, activities as ends in themselves and disdain for work' (158). Rave culture focuses these values and expresses them and music dance and drugs, producing ecstasy (in both senses). Thornton and Malbon are cited, and Malbon is preferred, especially his stress on the complexity of the relations between the self and the crowd, and the emergence of the 'oceanic experience' which is still obtainable without drugs. However, this is useful description, but weak on explanation.
Critcher goes on to revive themes in the sociology of youth, which has been recently neglected. He is hinting at the revival of the classic CCCS work, perhaps? Postmodern analysis and the decline of the concept of sub culture has placed this tradition in decline, perhaps terminally, but the gap has been filled by examinations of 'changes in transitions to adulthood' (160). These structural changes, basically involving the extension of youthful dependency, might be connected to cultural changes, focused on leisure in particular. Leisure Studies should replace other analyses of drug-taking, and the case study of rave shows how usefully it can illuminate broader issues such as moral regulation. However, more attention is needed on music, dance and drugs, each of which has been relatively neglected in Leisure Studies and in social science. Rave culture therefore poses 'a challenge to Leisure Studies' as well (161) .
Lupton, D. (1999) Risk, Routledge, London