Nocturnal Inequality: Ethnographies of Social Selection and Waiting in Line for Night Clubs in Tel-Aviv

This ethnographic study examines how micro-inequality operates face-to-face in every day (or actually every night) context of the nocturnal space of night clubs, focusing in particular on the long line awaiting entry to the club and undergoing the selection process to determine who is a bona fide customer and who will be denied access. The study entailed ethnographic observations of the long queue at the entrance to the club; in-depth interviews with the selectors (as they are called in Israel, or doormen and bouncers as they are referred to in the US and England); interviews with the partygoers in the long queue to enter the club aiming to examine their spatial and temporal experiences, especially interviews with individuals who do not pass selection (those whose ethnicity is depicted as “excessive” or referred to by the selectors as “heavy Oriental”); interviews with individuals who pass selection easily and regularly (individuals whose ethnicity is hegemonic and transparent and Oriental individuals who “pass” as hegemonic subjects); and ethnographic observation within the club (and especially the relations between different groups). The main research findings reveal a scenario of social selection (which includes specific status cues); differences in the waiting time experience between those who pass selection and those who do not pass selection; and unique reflexive engagement with respect to the spatial qualities of nightclubs among those who do not pass selection. The discussion section addresses the unique qualities of nocturnal inequality through the identification of a new symbolic type or unique Spatio-temporal subjectivity in nightlife (“the one who does not pass selection”); the experiences of the subjects who do not pass selection (loss of singularity and privacy, the interpellation of symbolic type in hegemonic hierarchical-ethnic order and experiences of state abandonment and lawlessness); and the structural qualities of the nocturnal space (what I call hyper-structure as compared to anti-structure) associated with nightclubs. This cultural study of nightclubs enables us to discuss the connection between state, space, nocturnal inequality and subjectivity in every night life.