QMJC March 2021: Habitus of home and traditional drinking: a qualitative analysis of reported middle-class alcohol use

First published: 06 April 2021 | Last updated: 06 April 2021

Article: Brierley-Jones L, Ling J, McCabe KE, Wilson GB, Crosland A, Kaner EFS, Haighton CA. Habitus of home and traditional drinking: a qualitative analysis of reported middle-class alcohol use. Sociology of Health & Illness 2014, 36(7), 1054-1076.

Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1467-9566.12145

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) team: GCU Substance Use Research Group (@SubMisuseGCU): Elena Dimova (lead) and Matt Smith, supported by Chris Graham (SARN / SHAAP).  Online journal club discussion with 22 colleagues, supported by the Scottish Alcohol Research Network (@SARNalcohol).

Paper Summary

This qualitative paper explores attitudes, meanings and behaviours in relation to alcohol consumption among professional, managerial and clerical employees. The title clearly conveys the topic, indicating the paper will focus on alcohol use among middle-class people. The authors suggest that members of higher socioeconomic groups may build resistance to harmful effects of alcohol through healthy behaviours (e.g. diet, physical activity) and may not access relevant services until irreversible health damage has occurred. The study draws on Bourdieu’s (1984) conceptual framework, which suggests that choices of food and drink are aligned with one’s position in the class hierarchy. It describes the idea of “habitus” – a set of socially ingrained dispositions and practices, that explain the way people understand and respond to the world around them.

The researchers conducted five focus groups with 49 people (32 women, 17 men). Focus groups took place during lunch hours at participants’ workplaces. Participants’ employment status ranged from junior office staff to senior management.

The findings clearly demonstrate how Bourdieu’s framework was used to unpack the context of drinking. The authors discuss two main patterns of alcohol consumption, characterised by a distinct set of beliefs and meanings (i.e. habitus): a home drinking habitus associated with wine drinking and a traditional habitus associated with drinking beer, lager and spirits on public premises. Participant quotes are used effectively to illustrate the key differences between the two types of habitus, and that the two types of habitus are not set in place and time. The authors also introduce the ‘omnivorous’ habitus, characterised by drinking various alcoholic beverages in a variety of contexts.

The discussion makes suggestions on how the findings can inform policy and address drinking behaviours, especially among home drinkers who may not perceive their drinking as potentially harmful/problematic (for ex., Jones et al., 2011).

Points raised in the online discussion

  • The paper is an excellent example of how to use theory in an integrated and consistent way.
  • The paper prompted us to reflect on our own drinking practices and consider our own ‘habitus’.
  • The findings inspired discussion about identity, such as differences according to gender in relation to home versus social drinking; and the self versus others dichotomy when positioning oneself in a group that does not drink at problematic levels, compared to others who do.
  • The journal club members discussed whether drinking in public places is more visible than drinking at home, and so easier to label as problematic.
  • The journal club members thought it would be interesting to conduct this study post covid-19 as individuals’ drinking habits may have changed and boundaries between work and home life are more blurred due to working from home.

References

Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Jones, I.R., Papcosta, O., Whincup, P.H., Wannamethee, S.G., et al. (2011) Class and lifestyle ‘lock-in’ among middle-aged and older men: a multiple correspondence analysis of the British Regional Heart Study, Sociology of Health & Illness, 33, 3, 399–419