Aberdeen Beach Boulevard and the Bouley Bashers: Response

Karen LumsdenKaren Lumsden is senior lecturer in sociology at Loughborough University. In this post she gives a researcher’s response to Kevin Wallace’s article on the ‘Bouley Bashers’.

Aberdeen’s boy racers, known locally as Bouley Bashers, have a legacy dating back to the 1960s. As Kevin notes from the 1990s a culmination of factors including urban regeneration of Aberdeen’s seafront and the introduction of anti-social behaviour powers made them the focus of local authority and police attention in response to complaints from residents and businesses. Urban regeneration including new residential, retail and leisure complexes resulted in a middle-class impetus of resident taxpayers and consumers and a related ‘Not in my Backyard’ mentality, with the boy racers viewed as ‘matter out of place’ (Douglas, 1966). However, for the young drivers this space was historically, socially and culturally meaningful and symbolic. It was here that Aberdonian car enthusiasts shared their love for cars and the space functioned as a forum for public display, acclamation and celebrity.

However, the space at Aberdeen’s Beach Boulevard was gradually redefined and reappropriated to accommodate the needs of the above groups. The boy racers were now viewed as outsiders. My ethnographic study of the boy racers and the social reaction (on the part of the police, local authority, community, politicians and media) demonstrated that the reaction bore little relation to the actual threat posed by the group and the majority of drivers took pride in their cars and driving abilities, and sought to work with the police to ensure they could continue to use this space (in a responsible manner) (see Lumsden, 2013). The media coverage of Aberdeen’s boy racers further exacerbated the issue and on occasions drew in citizens’ views from across the city as to who had rights to the use of this urban space and public highway (an example being the proposal to close the Beach Boulevard road in the evenings with access only to local residents).

The police response was influenced by a host of factors outlined in Kevin’s article, and notably the availability of various powers introduced in the Antisocial Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004, such as dispersal orders and seizure of vehicles. The emphasis which was placed on these new powers by the Scottish Government as a ‘means of tackling crime’, coupled with the high level of coverage in the local media, meant greater public awareness of possible means of dealing with low-level crime or disorder. This raised expectations as to the ways in which the authorities should respond to their concerns. It also raises questions as to the different tolerance levels and definitions pertaining to ‘anti-social behaviour’ which is very much ‘in the eyes of the beholder’ (Millie, 2008).

Moreover, there was a double-edged nature to anti-social behaviour management and enforcement interventions engaged in by police. For instance a tension exists between the successful consensual management of young drivers and the enforcement-led approaches reflected in the use of anti-social behaviour legislation, which risk marginalizing and ostracizing youths further, thus setting up more confrontational relations between young people and the police. However, the range of educational and interactional measures engaged in by the police with respect to Aberdeen’s boy racers was one means of ensuring open dialogue and positive relations with the drivers.

Finally, Kevin makes an interesting point about the various reasons for the decline of the boy racer scene in Aberdeen. One reason he points to is the rise of social media which might replace the need for physical gatherings. On completing the ethnographic research in 2008 members of the scene had long been utilizing websites to organize their hobby and respective ‘meets’, and were also beginning to utilize social media sites available in the pre-Facebook and Twitter days (such as MySpace and Bebo) to communicate and organize their activities. However, the research at that time demonstrated that these technologies helped to reaffirm the offline car community and that physical gatherings were still important for collective identity and fostering a sense of belonging. It would be worth investigating the dynamics of the group that still meets in the area, and the extent to which social media is integrated into their subcultural practices.

Douglas, M. (1966) Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, New York: Frederick A. Praeger.
Lumsden, K. (2013) Boy Racer Culture: Youth, Masculinity and Deviance, London: Routledge.
Millie, A. (2008), ‘Anti-social Behaviour, Behavioural Expectations and an Urban Aesthetic’, British Journal of Criminology 48: 379—94.

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