Photo by Veld Music Festival, Flickr CC

Music festivals are a popular part of the summer experience and can often last days at a time. As the seasons change and real life comes crashing back, however, some people find themselves feeling depressed after leaving their favorite festival atmospheres. Vice’s Noisey talked to Lindfield College’s Rob Gardner, a sociologist who has studied music concerts, festivals, and traveling fans extensively, about why post-festival blues are not an simply an individual phenomenon, but a social one.

As Gardner describes, music festivals are about more than simply the music or the atmosphere — they provide a sense of community for a lot of people from different walks of life. Gardner says,

“We may be incredibly connected to people via social media, but there’s something missing there. That intimate, visceral experience of sharing the same physical space with another human being, or thousands of human beings is something that’s missing from our daily lives … I think that there’s something that people are trying to get back in touch to, whether consciously or unconsciously, through that festival experience.”

These spaces provide a unique opportunity for individualism, expression, and freedom from mundane, everyday life. So, when someone leaves the festival environment and returns to constraints such as work, school, and family, it’s unsurprising that they hit a low note. Gardner notes,

“I think it has a lot to do with the structure of these events. Because festivals create this temporary community that is physically, socially, and experientially separate from our daily lives, when we enter them they allow us to do things and meet people we wouldn’t otherwise encounter. When we leave and re-enter our normal lives, it throws certain features of our lives into relief.”

Be sure to check out the full interview in which Dr. Gardner discusses other aspects of festival-going, including drugs, crowd dynamics, and partying on ships!

Seattle's first-in-line for the 2007 iPhone release. Eli Duke, Flickr CC.
Seattle’s first-in-line for the 2007 iPhone release. Eli Duke, Flickr CC.

Black Friday is around the corner… as will be the long lines of people waiting for hot retail deals. This queuing up isn’t uncommon; we see people line up for grand openings, new gadgets, concert tickets, and even for free burritos and ice cream. Americans stand in line (often voluntarily) for approximately 37 billion hours a year. Why?

David Gibson, a sociologist at Notre Dame, draws our attention to the human desire to be part of a niche community,

these are people whose identities and stories about themselves are very much tied to being foodies, on being on the cutting edge of fashion and style, or being Apple device lovers. They get recognition, status, and buzz among their friends by showing up at these places and being the first person with a new iPhone.

Additionally, Gibson told CityLab that humans are more concerned with the length of the line than with how fast it is moving. To pass the time, he suggested that people should try to make friends with others; “If you’re actually queuing up for something which is coveted and exciting, then you’re kind of a member of a community to start with.” It would be easy to strike up a conversation because you already know what you have in common.

When it comes to cutting the line and saving spots, Gibson adds,

The important thing is that [others] see that you are tied to someone, and they’re willing to think that person was standing there on behalf of you. If there’s a limited number of devices or seats, and the people behind you think that an addition of a person is going to make a difference [in the wait time], that’s the only time that it will matter.

Photo by Kai Brinker via
Photo by Kai Brinker via

A recent incident where police officers removed elderly “loiterers” from a McDonald’s in Queens has sparked a debate over the phenomenon of spaces such as McDonald’s and Starbucks being used as impromptu senior centers. In her article for the New York TimesStacy Torres makes excellent use of sociological ideas when defending the use of these spaces for socializing. She argues that the use of these public places as a sort of social club helps these Manhattan seniors avoid isolation and keep much needed social bonds. She turns to sociologists to explain the phenomenon:

Ray Oldenburg, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of West Florida, calls these gathering spots “third places,” in contrast to the institutions of work and family that organize “first” and “second” places. He sees bookstores, cafes, and fast food joints as necessary yet endangered meeting points that foster community, often among diverse people. The Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson likens public settings such as Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia to a “cosmopolitan canopy,” where people act with civility and converse with others to whom they might never otherwise speak.

Torres explains that since many of the neighborhood places such as local bakeries or cafes have disappeared, these seniors are forced to turn to institutions such as these fast food restaurants in order to provide structure and routine to their lives.

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Photo by Chris Butterworth via
Photo by Chris Butterworth via

When Tanya Marie Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist, studies religion, she’s not asking whether God is real. Rather, she wants to know how believing in a higher power affects the lifecourse. Writing in The New York Times, Luhrmann argues that the positive effects of church attendance go beyond simply increasing social capital through community interaction—it can be a psychiatric boon:

What I saw in church as an anthropological observer was that people were encouraged to listen to God in their minds, but only to pay attention to mental experiences that were in accord with what they took to be God’s character, which they took to be good. I saw that people were able to learn to experience God in this way, and that those who were able to experience a loving God vividly were healthier—at least, as judged by a standardized psychiatric scale.

Luhrmann’s work centers around “the way that ideas held in the mind come to seem externally real to people,” and she notes that belief in God is not always beneficial (for instance, some may feel only despair when they search for religious guidance). To that end, Luhrmann uses her essay to encourage more research into the relationships between mental illness and religion. Like many topics that interest social scientists, the challenge here is to move beyond, “Is this good or bad?” to explore, “When and for whom is this good or bad?”

If we’re not all living in Steubenville, are we still subject to the rules of Guyland?

When people do horrible things, it is often too tempting to obsess over the individual perpetrator, to ask “What went wrong?” through a slew of news headlines, childhood photo montages, and impassioned Internet comments. However, one of the basic tenets of Sociology 101 is that nothing happens in isolation—we must also look at the social sphere around an individual.

Michael Kimmel reminds us of this maxim in a recent opinion piece on Ms. Magazine’s website. Writing about the community response around a now-notorious Steubenville, Ohio gang rape, Kimmel argues that public outcry against the individual perpetrators (and trivial “poster boy(s) for teenage male douchery” who make light of the event) misses the point. What about the influence of a male-dominated community that could protect the perpetrators—those Kimmel calls “The 18,437 Perpetrators of Steubenville” in his title? He writes:

As I found in my interviews with more than 400 young men for my book Guyland, in the aftermath of these sorts of events—when high-status high school athletes commit felonies, especially gang rape—they are surrounded and protected by their fathers, their school administrations and their communities.

They did what they did because they felt entitled to, because they knew they could get away with it. Because they knew that their coaches, their families, their friends, their teammates and the police department—indeed, the entire town would rally around them and protect them from the consequences of what they’ve done.