Accepted Paper:

The social life of water after the riots on the sand: sociability at South Cronulla beach, Australia  


Nathalie Boucher (Université de Montréal)

Paper short abstract:

In the neoliberal era, the value of beaches as essential places to the social urban life remains unknown. This paper stems from ethnographic work in Cronulla Beach, known for the 2006 riots. Despite the discrimination in spatial frequency patterns, this place reinforces the social urban fabric.

Paper long abstract:

Are pools and beaches used only for fitness and recreational activities, or do people also socialize while bathing? In an era when public aquatic facilities are highly impacted (as are other urban parks) by the neoliberal reform, the value of beaches, as public places where bridges are built between citizens’ differences, remains unknown. In 2012-2013, using indicators from the literature on sociability in public spaces and interactionist methodology, I performed ethnographic work in four urban aquatic public spaces of Australia. Down Under beaches and pools constitute an important case to study because they are threatened by decreasing ground water levels, environmental hazards, and neoliberal processes of privatization. This paper focuses on South Cronulla Beach, a free public beach 30 km south of Sydney where interracial riots took place in 2006. Observations and interviews revealed that South Cronulla Beach is strongly dedicated to organized and supervised socialization and not to sociability. Nonetheless, it hosts a very strong social life involving mixed social group interactions within symbolic territories. While a surprisingly high number of interactions occur in the most coveted area - supporting the general belief that the riots are a thing of the past - a subtle discrimination can also be observed in spatial frequency patterns. However, through familiarization, interactions, and processes of negotiation and appropriation between citizens from different backgrounds attracted by the features of South Cronulla Beach, this public place reinforces the social urban fabric. This research thus advocates for maintaining the public funding required by this aquatic public space.

Panel P016
Reconsidering the future of urban space: social and economic divisions in the public domain (Commission of Urban Anthropology and Commission on the Anthropology of Women)