Gateways for consumption: A rhythmanalysis

Joanne Massey

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Massey, J. (1). Gateways for consumption: A rhythmanalysis. Journal of Consumer Culture, 19(3), 417–437.

Consumption , Lefebvre , Manchester , urban space , youth

This article uses participant observation data to explore teenagers' presence in two urban public spaces in Manchester, England. The urban spaces under investigation are public, but surrounded by retail outlets and act as gateways for consumption. The aim is to answer the question 'how do the rhythms of teenage life differ when ordinary and extraordinary activities occur in urban public spaces of consumption?' Lefebvre's Rhythmanalysis is employed to analyse the data and identify instances of eurhythmia (harmonious rhythms), arrhythmia (discordant rhythms) and polyrhythmia (multiple simultaneous rhythms) during periods of typical and extraordinary use. Ordinarily the teenagers used the spaces of consumption to mostly meet and socialise with friends with a small number of them using the space to skateboard. This occurred harmoniously alongside others who pass through these gateways to consumption indicating multiple rhythms. The findings indicate that the teenagers were displaced from urban space during the staging of official events which involved increased control from authorities such as the local council and police. They were replaced by a different crowd of people consisting of mostly families and adults. Paradoxically, the 'festival' atmosphere created by extraordinary events in the gateways of consumption resulted more interaction among those present despite increased control from the authorities. Rhythmanalysis proved useful in understanding of spaces when researching spaces of consumption, as it exposes the temporal and fluid nature of urban space. Ultimately, there was no room for the presence of regular users (teenagers) during the staging of extraordinary events indicating a lack of multiple rhythms.

Main finding
This article uses Lefebvre’s rhythmanalysis to identify and analyze patterns and rhythms of consumption in Manchester city centre. Researchers found a significant presence of teenagers in the public spaces studied during ordinary (mundane) times of the day. Eurhythmic (harmonious) activities among teenagers were present and evident in their shared taste of music and fashion. Arrhythmic (mismatched) activities were more likely to occur in public spaces during regular times of the day as teenagers practiced skateboarding despite signs prohibiting it. There did not seem to be room for polyrhythmic (multiple simultaneous) activities during extraordinary uses such as government-sponsored events, as the regular teenage users of the public spaces were displaced by users with more ‘right to the city.’ Teenagers were not considered by locals to be ideal users of public spaces of consumption because their presence does not attract capital nor lead to consumption, spending most of their time skateboarding and socializing. Thus, teenage presence in public spaces of consumption in the city is generally frowned upon and is policed by retail shop owners and law enforcement. This interruption of existing teenage rhythms shows that during extraordinary uses of public space the type of user changes, but the capitalist ideology of consumption baked into Lefebvre’s ‘everydayness’ of the space does not.

Description of method used in the article
Observations were taken from the public spaces of Exchange Square and the Cathedral Gardens in the center of Manchester city centre for a week three times a day (during the morning, lunchtime, and afternoon) to identify rhythms within each space. Researchers conducted observations on the activities happening in four public and private spaces, but only data collected from the two public spaces were utilized for the study, resulting in 42 total observations. Researchers observed the actions and activities of the everyday users of the public spaces in question while sitting on benches, lawns, and standing by walls.

Of practical use

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