Kavanaugh, P.R. and T.L. Anderson. 2008. “Solidarity and Drug Use in the Electronic Dance Music Scene.”

Kavanaugh, Philip R. and Tammy L. Anderson. 2008. “Solidarity and Drug Use in the Electronic Dance Music Scene.” The Sociological Quarterly 49(1): 181-208.

While rave participants frequently engage in drug use, it is not the only source of solidarity.  Within public health and medical literature, rave culture is “a site of extensive drug consumption and personal risk, where solidarity is dismissed or dubiously acknowledged as chemically induced” (181).

Raves as “grassroots organized, antiestablishment and unlicensed all-night dance parties, feature various genres of electronically produced dance music, populated by large numbers of youths and young adults” (181). Widespread drug use since emergence has led to law enforcement and government crackdowns – adapted by moving indoors to licensed club venues – results in club owners’ securing portion of rave profits (Bennett 2001).  Currently raves located between underground venues and commercial nightclubs (Anderson 2007).

Rave studied from two perspectives:

  • culturally-oriented viewpoint: raves rooted in empathy, community support (Hutson 2000; Sylvan 2002, 2005), based in peace, love, unity, and respect. Drug use facilitates, not creates, senses of community/solidarity/PLUR at events (Malbon 1999; Maxwell 2005).

Rituals, such as those discussed by Durkheim (1912/1972) as fostering sense of community solidarity – music rituals, such as those of rave events mimic these outcomes (Sylvan 2002, 2005; St John 2006). Corresponding participation in rituals, feelings of connection/spirituality based in synchronous consumption of music and participation in event (Takahashi and Olaveson 2003; Lynch and Badger 2006; Partridge 2006).  Rave as a youth lifestyle – intense camaraderie (Thornton 1996; Bennett 2001) – possibly relieving alienation of youth (Tomlinson 1998) — this doesn’t address role of drugs, nor gender relations (McRobbie 1994; Pini 1997). Raves also framed as youth social movement (Hutson 2000; Hitzler and Pfadenhauer 2002) – PLUR as structuring principle and source of participant style (Sylvan 2002, 2005). Marked loss of diversity in interviews within study than in years’ past – early raves within the UK attracted racially-diverse demographics from predominantly working-class backgrounds (Reynolds 1999). “Acceptance of all forms of diversity was considered a core value in the past rave every, and one that those in this study continued to endorse” (186) – despite demographic core (within this study) of heterosexual, white males from middle-class to elite backgrounds, only seconded by white females.

Ethnographic work within scene describes drug use as positive, stabilizing activity for participants (Hitzler 2002; Moore and Miles 2004) – serves as part of personal/social identity formation in youth (Ter Bogt et al 2002; Salasuo and Seppala 2004; Hunt et al 2005) and extends well into adulthood (Northcote 2006).  Raves as escape from contemporary capitalist culture – drug use enhances this rebellion (Melechi 1993; Reynolds 1999; Hill 2002), a form of self-expression during “hard times” (Redhead 1990; Reynolds 1999; Nehring 2007). Drug use as enhancing enjoyment of event/music (Malbon 1999).

  • public health viewpoint: fraught with interpersonal/health risks – excessive drug consumption, devoid of collective meaning (DHHS 2003; Yacoubian et al 2004; Kelly 2005; Miller et al 2005; Sterk, Theall and Elifson 2006) – solidarity as solely formed through drug use.
  • S. has a tendency to frame raves as public health risks rather than cultural entity – public health emphasis on negative consequences may restrict consideration of positive experiences within rave/EDM scenes (Cole, Sumnall, and Grob 2002).

Studies within public health research portray rave/EDM scenes as dangerous drug subculture (Measham, Aldridge, and Parker 2001; Miller et al 2005; Sterk et al 2006; Yacoubian and Wish 2006). Drug-related consequences have been increasingly reviewed – “Between 1995 and 2002, there was an 856 percent increase in the number of emergency department visits associated with ecstasy in the United States” (184, see also DAWN 2003), DUIs (Degenhardt et al 2006; Duff and Rowland 2006; Furr-Holden et al 2006), polysubstance abuse (Barrett et al 2005; Miller et al 2005), sexual promiscuity, and HIV risk (McElrath 2005; Theall, Elifson, and Sterk 2006), life management and interpersonal problems (Topp et al 1999; Krebs and Steffey 2005; Levy et al 2005) — physiological and psychological problems too – acute depression, nausea, dehydration, memory impairment (Parrott 2004; ONDCP 2006a; Parrott et al 2006).  Long-term drug use may result in memory loss and severe, chronic depression (Bolla, McCann, and Ricaurte 1998; Verherden, Maidment, and Curran 2003).

Defining Solidarity

  • Solidarity more fragmented in modern societies, defined by independent/differentiated social components – not bonded by interdependence, but by individual choice/preference (Komter 2004) – more ephemeral, non-committal, exclusive and possibly negatively impacting society? (Hammond 2003; Komter 2004).
  • There is no singular or unified sense of solidarity within contemporary rave/EDM scenes (Anderson 2007), but are contingent upon commercialization and fragmentation within them (Thornton 1996; Bennett 2001) – increasingly specialized (connect to genre literature), and commercialized. “Thus, newcomers to the scene are likely to have different motives and needs for participation and exude new (both increasingly novel and increasingly mainstream) styles and behaviors” (186).
  • “With collective identity, solidarity emerges from the delineation of an established political goal and collective action with regard to the realization of that goal” (185) – solidarity, though, is much more general – “can occur in diffuse contexts, without an expressed political agenda, impetus toward collective agency, or clear connection to broader sociopolitical movements” (185).
  • Collective identity defined as “a groups’ shared sense of solidarity or ‘one-ness,’ and a corresponding sense of collective agency on behalf of that group (Snow 2001), as shaped by political opportunities, availability of resources, and organizational strength (Taylor and Whittier 1995)” (201).
    • Feelings of common cause motivates individuals to act in the interests of the collective – creating sense of collective agency.
    • Group-level identity markers (RCGS) in social movements may have boundaries for membership (Taylor and Whittier 1992), and clearly-defined political goals (Gamson 1991; Snow and McAdam 2001; Taylor and Whittier 1995).
    • Scholars have traditionally classified youth music scenes as “deviant subcultures” (Cohen 1972; Hebdige 1979) rather than social movments
  • Raves should not be defined as social movements in their own right, due to their lack of connection to larger sociopolitical movements or promotion of clearly-defined social change (Hutson 2000), but as “pseudosocieties with hybrid cultures” (185, see also Anderson 2007) – closely representing hippies of 1960s (Bennett 2001) or other countercultures.
  • Although scene and subculture are frequently interchanged, Bennett (1999) notes: “the concept of subculture is unworkable as an objective analytical tool in sociological work on youth, music, and style – that the musical tastes and stylistic preferences youth, rather than being tied to issues of social class, as subculture maintains, are in fact examples of the late modern lifestyles in which notions of identity are constructed rather than given, and fluid rather than fixed” (Bennett 1999: 599, here 202) – use of scene reflects “diffuse, temporal, and continually shifting dynamics of these cultural groups” (202).
  • Maffesoli (1996) – “tribes” that resist social norms of late capitalism and its associated rationality – “In these tribes, prior frames of reference and identification such as social class, occupation, locality, and religion have been abandoned. Instead, forces of emotional renewal – signified by the trivialization of work, increased focus on sensual pleasure, political apathy, consumption, peer networks, and the importance of appearance – are the newly emergent bases for solidarity that reinvigorate social life with vitality and effervescence” (185) – applied to rave/EDM scenes in recent literature (Bennett 1999, 2001; Malbon 1999).

Drug use enhances group solidarity and oppositional identity – as well as feeling immobilized/alienated by mainstream/traditional institutions/sites of solidarity.



Two types of solidarity emerged:

  • Social-affective: “solidarity is a sustained part of one’s identity, reinforced through social interaction” (190)– focus on interpersonal experiences/feelings/interactions/socialization – level of involvement within scene — solidarity built spontaneously through participation (Fantasia 1988) – drugs used to facilitate solidarity, but not create it — but also participation was structured through routines/disruption of routines. Drug use can alleviate social pressures, offer new forms of personal/social identities (Anderson 2008; Hitzler 2002; Ter Bogt et al 2002; Moore and Miles 2004; Salasuo and Seppala 2004).
  • “music and other forms of cultural expression can articulate as well as fuse a group – offering a sense of group belonging and collectivity as well as strength in trying situations” (Eyerman 2002: 447) — the solidarity created here as important, sustained through participation within a group culture of their own (resistant)
  • Drug use as distinguishing boundaries, defining values and norms of scene, hierarchies of members – boundary delineation as critical to creating/sustaining social groups within music scenes (Straw 1991), but also demonstrates exclusivity, even within temporary social groups/interactions (Hammond 2003; Komter 2004).
  • Even sustained through virtual dimensions, with members interacting online (see also Bennett and Peterson 2004), evidencing multiplex dimensions of music scenes (Futrell et al 2006).
    • use of internet to sustain/create social networks outside of events evidences “not only that the internet offers new social spaces where identity can be (re)negotiated but that a significant reason many go online is to experience new forms of social life…. Internet users are not withdrawing from social action but are rather seeking it” (Williams 2006: 179).
  • Behavioral-organizational: actual, tangible activities in which members participated in – participatory norms and organizing structures/principles of events/scenes
  • solidarity built through dancing together, despite demographic and personal differences
  • shift to commercial club arenas fragments rave/EDM into genre-specific sub-scenes (Thornton 1996; Bennett 2001) – smaller, grassroots events reflected more camaraderie than large-scale commercial events at nightclubs, where alcohol/cocaine use was more common than drug/ecstasy use — parallels to commodificiation/commercialization of punk scene (Hebdige 1979) and alternative scenes (Moore 2005) – abandoning many subcultural markers previously held.

Extensive, longitudinal drug use was also related to detachment – excessive drug use and other hedonistic (even predatory) behaviors challenges achievement of social-affective solidarity.  Also, drug use promoted detachment of older, former users/participants – from having to rehab, to aging out,  to drugs’ fostering of other, negative (not congruent with subcultural norms) behaviors, such as theft, etc. —- in addition to shifts of solidarity reframed by mainstream commercialization of rave events, genre fragmentation, competitive attitudes between members, or conflicting motives/commitment for rave participation (“led to the development of a more diffused scene, allowing for different levels of commitment and fluid involvement by new groups of participants” (197).  “The absence of an more inclusive organizational solidarity in this instance can be viewed as a question of ‘authenticity’ in terms of ‘real members’ versus ‘pretenders’ (Fox 1987; Williams and Copes 2005), and the ‘in-out’ dynamic that characterizes most scenes (Straw 1991)” (198). Even within scenes, subgenre divisions gave ground to determine others as outsiders.

Work undertaken to detach the practice (and thus stigma) of drug use from rave events – “This illustrates the shifting, fluid nature of solidarity in the EDM scene over time, and highlights its organizational components” (200).



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