Article: Thurnell-Read, Thomas. ‘Common-sense’ research: Senses, emotions and embodiment in researching stag tourism in Eastern Europe. Methodological Innovations Online 6, no.3 (2011a), 39-49


Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) team: GCU Substance Use Research Group(@SubMisuseGCU): Carol Emslie (lead), Elena Dimova and Matt Smith, supported by Chris Graham(SARN / SHAAP).  Online journal club discussion with 30 colleagues supported by the Scottish Alcohol Research Network (@SARNalcohol).

Paper Summary

This fascinating study uses the stag weekend as a lens to explore men’s drinking, masculinities and the male body, adding to a relatively recent body of work which focuses on alcohol and men’s gendered identity (e.g. Campbell 2000, de Visser & Smith 2007, Emslie et al 2013, Gough & Edwards 1998, Hunt & Antin 2019, Lemle & Mishkind 1989, MacDiarmid 2020, Peralta 2007).  Thurnell-Read (2011) draws on in-depth participant observation with eight groups of British men in Krakow old town centre who are ‘off the leash and out of control’ to question previous assumptions about men invariably being expected to demonstrate ‘manliness’ by ‘holding’ their drink and exerting control over their bodies.

This work builds on an important tradition of (often covert) observation of actors in the night time economy (e.g. Fitzgerald et al 2021, Forsyth & Lennox 2010,  Graham et al 2006 , Miller et al 2017, Ross-Houle & Quigg 2019, Tutenges & Bøhling 2019). However, Thurnell-Read’s use of participant observation means he can reflect on how his identity allowed him to gain access to, and build rapport with, a fairly similar group of men (in terms of age, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status and relationships status). He provides a ‘backstage’ look at research, discussing his decision to drink with participants (although not ‘match them drink for drink’ p43) as a marker of group membership and his ambivalent emotions during fieldwork (including the camaraderie of belonging to the group and his embarrassment and disgust at some behaviour).  Thurnell-Read considers his own embodied experience as a potential source of data (stumbling, disinhibition, the sensations of walking through a city and exchanging banter with the group) which enables him to capture a stream of perceptions and emotions which otherwise may have been lost. This is a strength of the paper.  While we often ask respondents to talk about their experiences of drinking, the bodily sensations (both pleasurable and less pleasant) of consuming alcohol are often ignored (although see Jayne et al 2016, Lyons et al 2014, Zajdow & MacLean 2014).

Thurnell Read argues that researchers’ own sensory engagement can provide valuable knowledge of drinking, intoxication and the night time economy and that sharing sensory, embodied and emotional experiences with respondents can create and maintain rapport.  Rather than just focusing on sights or words, we are encouraged to consider all our senses (e.g. the thump of nightclub bass speakers and the drunken cheers of stag groups, the smell of vomit, and the taste of specific drinks).  He argues that these sensory stimuli provide a way to summon the vivid nature of fieldwork as he writes up his findings: ‘the smell and taste of Zubrowka, a brand of Polish vodka flavoured with ‘bison’ herbal grass, brings on an almost Proustian moment of recollection where memories and emotions of fieldwork return through sensory experience” (p47).  This paper therefore provides a vivid reminder for researchers to attend to, and document, the sensory, embodied and emotional aspects of fieldwork.

Points raised in the online discussion

  • How the researcher’s perceived identity may influence gaining access to, and interactions with, groups in participant observation
  • How the choice to drink (or not drink) alcohol by researchers (often also determined by safety concerns) may influence fieldwork and interpretation of findings
  • How alcohol and masculinities are viewed in different cultures
  • The strengths and weaknesses of different qualitative methods; while this ethnographic approach focused on the group in public spaces, individual interviews might have revealed different aspects of individual men’s experiences and feelings
  • How to write up and where to publish such reflexive research accounts in the first person. Participants reflected that writing in this way can also feel uncomfortably revealing for some researchers
  • The difficulties of obtaining ethical approval for ethnographic research in some Universities
  • The duty of care PhD supervisors and Universities have in ensuring that PhD students (and all researchers) are safe during fieldwork (Bloor et al 2010)


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