A lifelong fascination with urban culture, particularly as experienced by the young, has brought a mix of fame and infamy to Canadian-born Professor Robert Hollands.
His research has taken him from studying the pubs and clubs of his adopted home city of Newcastle, to the Prague fringe festival and the squats/social centres of Barcelona and Geneva, to discover the dynamics and often tense polarities between ‘alternative’ and ‘mainstream’ culture, and how the former can contribute to social transformation.
"I’ve always been interested in cultural alternatives such as squatting, fringe festivals, and early rave culture. They all imply a ‘do it yourself’ ethos, that are about challenging society rather than simply waiting for social policies or political change to just happen."
One of Dr. Hollands’ first pieces of research upon moving to Newcastle was to examine the city’s vibrant nightlife culture. The project was ridiculed at the time by the media, with headlines like "Boozy Bob going on a £16,000 pub crawl" and its focus was misreported as far afield as the Egyptian Gazette.
"I do believe that this was one of the first ever studies of UK nightlife. My research findings challenged easy stereotypes of nightlife behaviour about sex and violence, and instead focussed on how rapid economic and social change was creating new forms of identity and community in the leisure sphere. Similarly, it contributed to changes in licensing laws and highlighted the central importance of nightlife economies to cities today."
Currently Robert is conducting research in Geneva and Prague. Once the squatting capital of Europe in the mid-90s, Geneva has become a rather 'corporate city' catering largely to business people and diplomats, squeezing out any alternative nightlife places for its own young people. However, a new generation of DJs, artists, scholars and activists, are fighting back to reclaim the city, and have asked him to work together with them.
"This project really stimulates me. These young people understand the power of research in supporting their aims. They are campaigning to save the last few alternative venues in the city, and working creatively to build a new and different alternative night-time infrastructure."
His research on the Prague Fringe Festival is concerned with examining the degree to which it can be seen as a model of 'alternative cultural tourism', creating different and more equal social relations, bonds and networks between performers, festival volunteers, audiences and local people.
Finally, Robert is involved in a joint research project (with John Vail) closer to home, involving a study of a local arts collective Amber. Again, the emphasis of the research is on Amber’s alternative egalitarian structure, and democratic ways of working with and representing the local area and working communities. "Amber may have evolved in an era of dramatic change, with respect to society and culture (i.e. the impact of Paris 1968, and the formation of many political arts collectives), but we think aspects of their model still have relevance and implications for new ways of working in the arts today in an increasingly commodified sector".