The co-opting of pro-nightlife activist discourses in Sydney

Authors: Peta Wolifson*, University of New South Wales
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: urban geography, night-time economy, nightlife, activism, social movements, discourse
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Gallier A, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper theorises how neoliberal ‘global city’ actors co-opt activist discourses, and examines the way that such co-opted activism has come to be understood as successful resistance. To illustrate, it presents new research on activism in the context of Sydney's controversial and ongoing debate over the city’s nightlife, especially related to the so-called 'lockout laws' in place since early 2014. The paper focuses on two ‘pro-nightlife’ movements in this global city – 'Keep Sydney Open' and 'Reclaim the Streets' – presenting analysis of in-depth interviews undertaken with key activists and policymakers, media produced by and relating to the activist groups and select government documents. Examination of the performative discourses of these two groups reveals the co-opting of activism by a neoliberal ‘global city’ discourse and exposes mechanisms of subject formation. Background context reveals the significance of the history of nightlife industry regulation, and responses to it. This context helps to establish an understanding of the efficacy of the activist (and government) narratives discussed. The paper engages with current theoretical debates pertaining to social movements, neoliberalism, and gentrification in urban geography and related fields. With its particular focus on the night-time economy, it presents new insights into ongoing work on the gentrification of nightlife and related activism. The paper concludes that pro-nightlife activist discourses are increasingly co-opted into being defined by neoliberal ideas, a characterisation that determines the appearance of their success.

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