Stop the Beat: Quiet Regulation and Cultural Conflict

October, 2008


This paper explores a recent conflict over the youth phenomenon known as “raving” in the city of Chicago. By interviewing participants involved in the conflict, we set out to understand the extent to which the crack down on raves in Chicago was similar to earlier social reactions to jazz, comic books, rock and roll, and Dead Head culture as well as to more recent conflicts over punk, rap music, and raves in other cities. While most previous research on cultural conflict has focused on moral crusades, campaigns and panics, the Chicago conflict represents an example of “quiet regulation.” Opponents refrained from highly visible, morally-charged attacks. Instead, in the absence of media hype and visible public discourse, public officials justified the crackdown in highly bureaucratic terms – avoiding risk, collecting taxes, enforcing codes. Nonetheless, they also drew on cultural schemas that linked raves and raving with drugs, sex, and deviance. As a result, officials selected a course of regulation that criminalized DJs and discredited the art form. In the absence of a highly visible moral campaign, the rave participants were unable to mobilize and resist the regulation and defend their lifestyle. Sociologists must move beyond highly visible campaigns and crusades and pay greater attention to quiet regulation, both because such regulation is likely to increase in the future and because it has significant consequences on power, cultural expression and identity.

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