New Directions in Queer Nightlife: Infrastructures, Undercommons and Submerged Narratives

Riposte party, London. Photo: @omergaash
In their introduction to the dossier, Johan Andersson and Jamie Hakim highlight the methodological challenges raised by new research in queer nightlife.
[Ed. note: This is the introduction to a dossier on New Directions in Queer Nightlife.]

Half a century ago, the break with heteronormative partner dancing in early gay discos revolutionised nightlife and created a new model of being together – individual dancing in close proximity with others – that remains globally popular to this day. Queer nightlife, then, has not only been emancipatory for queers, but played a crucial role in the development of electronic dance music cultures, and nightlife more broadly. While queer clubs – like all clubs – can be cliquey, exclusive, and discriminatory, they have also been understood as possessing a specific capacity to bring diverse groups of people into contact with each other, in spaces where social distinctions are temporarily suspended. Nightlife scholar Tim Lawrence has described such successful dancefloors as a “form of socialism” that contains “the possibility of collective politics.”1Tim Lawrence, Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–79, (Duke University Press, 2003), 26–27.

This framing of nightlife as political has not only been adopted by cultural theorists but increasingly by club organisers and partygoers as well, particularly over the past decade. Justifications for such framings range from the role clubs can play as “safe spaces” for minorities, dancefloors as sites of political consciousness-raising, new organisational models based on “collectives,” or more generally, how the hedonistic priorities of nightlife can be understood as a pleasurable critique of the capitalist work ethic, or – given the often intergenerational crowds in queer clubs – as a disruption of the “adult-youth binary.”2Jack Halberstam In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, (NYU Press, 2005), 14. The recent emergence of the “queer rave” as the emblematic nightlife form with its often “intentional, intersectional” orientations suggest a more explicitly political form of partying, which has also required methodological innovation often drawing from performance studies and cultural studies rather than conventional social science.

Early approaches in urban sociology and geography mainly used nightclub listings to map emerging spatial formations such as gay villages, while architectural studies focused on the discreet exterior features of gay and lesbian venues as symbolic landscapes. In contrast, recent nightlife scholarship has drawn on cultural studies traditions which locate their focus very much inside the nightclubs, developing autoethnographic and immersive approaches often using theories of affect and emotion. This shift in analytical scale from the city to the body underlines the importance of dance and “microgestures” in the struggle over what Kemi Adeyemi calls the “physical and affective rights to the city.”3Kemi Adeyemi, Feels Right: Black Queer Women and the Politics of Partying in Chicago (Duke University Press, 2022), 16; 23.

Over the past two years a plethora of new research has been produced that exemplify these approaches to queer nightlife. To celebrate this research, we organised a symposium at King’s College London called “New Directions in Queer Nightlife,” where we specifically requested that contributors reflect on the methodological challenges they faced. The contributors come from different disciplinary backgrounds spanning architecture and planning, ethnomusicology, sociology, anthropology and criminology. We reproduce their interventions below, beginning with an attempt to shift the emphasis of the dossier (and the field) on the Global North – Tamar Shirinian’s ethnographic reflections on queer nightlife in Yerevan. In them she proposes that Stefano Harney and Fred Moten’s theorising of the undercommons would be a generative way of apprehending the often underground queer nightlife cultures in the Armenian capital. This is followed by Ben Campkin’s use of Lauren Berlant’s “queer infrastructures” to understand the dramatic changes in London’s queer nightlife over the past decade. Amin Ghaziani proposes a flexible “methodology of messy moments” to grapple with post-gay bar queer nightlife. Luis-Manuel Garcia-Mispireta reflects on the methods necessary to capture the effects of Covid-19 on Berlin’s queer nightlife collectives. Finally, Alex Frankovitch wonders how we might pay attention to what is left unsaid in narratives of sex-on-drugs in the darkrooms of gay clubs. Together they offer rich insights not only into a critical moment of historical change in queer culture, but also different takes on the methodological complexities of trying to grasp it.

Notes

Notes
1 Tim Lawrence, Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970–79, (Duke University Press, 2003), 26–27.
2 Jack Halberstam In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives, (NYU Press, 2005), 14.
3 Kemi Adeyemi, Feels Right: Black Queer Women and the Politics of Partying in Chicago (Duke University Press, 2022), 16; 23.
Andersson, Johan and Jamie Hakim. "New Directions in Queer Nightlife: Infrastructures, Undercommons and Submerged Narratives." Mediapolis: A Journal of Cities and Culture 9, no. 2 (June 2024)
and
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.