Towards a Sociology of Nighttime: Impacts of the Night-Time Economy on Public Spaces, Sociopolitical Values, and Socioeconomic Stratification in China China

Project: Research project

Project Details


The ‘nighttime economy’ (NTE)— a term coined by geographers and urban planners to denote the cultural economy of commercial nightlife consumption and production — has expanded substantially in Europe and North America in the past few decades. Observing how the NTE successfully facilitate urban regeneration in Europe, the Chinese government aggressively constructs local NTEs since the early 2000s. This is a surprising development given that Chinese individuals organizing wild parties could still be sentenced to death in the late 1980s and a large portion of Chinese dance clubs were shut down in anti-drug campaigns in the late 1990s. This project studies how this latest rapid growth phase of the Chinese NTE is affecting Chinese society. It focuses on three aspects: how local residents resist, reclaim, and are displaced by the gentrified spaces of nightlife districts, what the sociopolitical values of nightlife participants are, and how nightlife consumption can reinforce and disrupt established socioeconomic hierarchies.

The project is theoretically significant in several ways. It enriches the international field of NTE studies through challenging the findings of current studies, most of which focus on NTEs in the West. It avoids major weaknesses in current Chinese NTE scholarship by departing from conventional research foci and providing a balanced evaluation of the NTE. The project fosters future efforts of constructing a ‘sociology of nighttime’ through demonstrating that nighttime social dynamics deviate from those of daytime and can disrupt them. Additionally, it will contribute fresh empirical materials and theoretical analyses to scholarship on gentrification in urban sociology and urban studies, debates on the sociopolitical implications of popular culture in neo-Marxist sociology and media studies, and cultural sociological research on the relationship between cultural capital and class.

The practical significance of this project is that it will supply the first in-depth and large scale empirical basis for deliberating on NTE related policy questions. These questions include the urban policy dilemma regarding the economic benefits and social liabilities of the NTE, the cultural policy problem of how to develop the Chinese NTE into a successful creative industry, and the economic development policy question of how to make use of the NTE in the long-term strategic planning of China and Hong Kong.

This project adopts five methods: questionnaire survey, in-depth interviews, ethnography, open blogging, and documentary data collection. The main sites of data collection are Beijing’s nightlife districts. The questionnaire survey will target 1,000 Chinese nightlife consumers. A stratified sample will be taken through categorizing nightlife consumers into patrons of six kinds of nightlife venues. Formal in-depth interviews will be conducted on 20 local residents of nightlife districts, 20 nightlife venue operators and workers, and 10 relevant local officials. Ethnography of a large, middle priced range dance club will be carried out. Participant and non-participant observation of local residents’ uses of nightlife district spaces will also be conducted.
Effective start/end date1/07/1330/06/16


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