Smoking as an adaptation - rationality and habituality of smoking in manual work
Department of Sociology University of Helsinki University of Helsinki, Finland
A vast amount of research has brought out the association of daily smoking with social class. Smoking is very common in the most disadvantaged groups, but it has also maintained its popularity among manual workers. It has been suggested that what explains the social differentiation of smoking is simply the fact that educated people are more interested in health matters and are therefore more motivated to quit smoking. However, previous qualitative studies on class and health have shown that health is considered equally important by all social groups. In addition, smoking seems to serve many positive functions, especially in stressful life circumstances.
The starting point of the paper is that health concerns and the functionality of smoking are only one part of the answer in explaining the social differentiation of smoking. What needs to be taken into account is the environment in which tobacco addiction takes place. The study is based on the interviews of 55 daily smokers, quitters and occasional smokers from different occupational backgrounds, and on observations made at the respondents´workplaces. In this paper, the main interest is in the rationality of smoking in working-class contexts and how it is related to daily routines and social settings in manual work. Theoretically, the study draws on the pragmatist idea of habits and how they are formed in accordance with the external environment.
As a shared ritual, smoking is a self-evident part of daily routines at the workplaces under scrutiny. The study shows how smoking serves as a legitimate way to challenge the official rules and to make work more bearable by increasing social contacts and the sense of belonging. Paradoxically, smoking is to a great extent an unquestionable routine but at the same time it increases the autonomy of the workers with regard to their daily tasks.