9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN07 Sociology of Culture

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Old and New Individualisms I Building II, C4.06

'Binge' Drinking, Neo-liberalism and Individualism

Will Haydock
PhD Student, Bournemouth University

Flat 16, Athelney Court
24 Grove Road
Bournemouth
BH1 3DB

Tel: 01202 558177
Fax: 01202 962194
Email: whaydock@bournemouth.ac.uk

'Binge' Drinking, Neo-liberalism and Individualism

'Binge' drinking in the UK is perceived by government, media and academics alike as a topic of concern, despite the absence of any agreed definition. The current UK government's approach to alcohol policy can be understood within the framework of neo-liberalism, its clear morals and ideals juxtaposed with increased opportunities for apparent transgression. 'Binge' drinking is constructed - by both media and government - as such transgression, in contrast with the ideals of 'responsible' or 'moderate' drinking. 'Binge' drinkers are seen as hedonistic, excessive and irrational; the antithesis of the rational, self-governing, moral individual that is the ideal neo-liberal subject.

Conversely, most academic discussions of 'binge' drinking have focused on the contrast with what has been called 'traditional' drinking, based in community pubs and understood to have reinforced stable working-class, masculine identities based on workplace relations. 'Binge' drinking is presented as an individualistic practice, constructing identities through consumption under conditions determined by big business, with any sense of community being simply brand loyalty created by companies. 'Binge' drinking is thus understood not as the antithesis of neo-liberal ideals, but their apotheosis.

My ethnographic research of drinking cultures in Bournemouth, UK, suggests that the relationship between individualism and drinking on the British night-time high street is more varied and nuanced than either of these models suggest. Some drinkers did present individualistic identities constructed through consumption, but they emphasised self-control, rationality and 'good taste', trying to distance themselves from conceptions of 'binge' drinking. On the other hand, many who might commonly be identified as 'binge' drinkers denounced the construction of such identities as 'stuck up' because of the stress on 'image' over 'having a laugh', and emphasised instead a sense of community that built on relationships from school and work, not simply shared patterns of consumption. The paper will therefore address the theme 'New and Old Individualisms', as it considers how ideas of individualism and distinction inform Bournemouth's high street drinking cultures.