Printer Friendly

Reform and resistance: exploring the interplay of alcohol policies with drinking cultures and drinking practices.


Driving home one evening in Darwin, Australia, a few years ago, I found myself at some traffic lights behind a Toyota Hilux truck--a classic "tradies" vehicle, with a big aluminum toolbox in the tray. On the back of the tray were two stickers, one above the other. The top one read:


The lower one:


The "bloody idiot" sticker carried, in one corner, the Northern Territory Government logo and an attribution to the Government's Living With Alcohol Program, an unusually comprehensive, public health-based suite of policies that operated between 1991 and 2000, with the objective (partially met) of reducing alcohol-related harm in the heaviest drinking jurisdiction in Australia (d'Abbs, 2004; Skov, Chikritzhs, Li, Pircher, & Whetton, 2010; Stockwell et al., 2001). The words themselves had been copied from a Victorian Government-funded campaign that featured, in addition to bumper stickers and advertisements in the print media, a series of controversial TV advertisements depicting gruesome scenes from alcohol-related crashes. I could not read any small print on the "legend" sticker, but presumably someone had thought it worth their while commercially to print and market this riposte to the government's campaign.

Perhaps because I had been personally involved in developing the Living With Alcohol Program, the pair of stickers prompted reflection. Here was someone playing at the game of public health discourse-- appropriating the format of the car bumper sticker--to subvert the message, by mocking what was arguably a clumsy attempt on the part of the original writer at selling a serious message--don't drink and drive--by punning on a vernacular phrase: "bloody idiot." Looking back at that occasion now, the pair of texts seems to points in two directions. The first is a domain familiar to sociologists and investigative journalists: that of the social organization involved in the production, distribution, and use of the bumper stickers. Was the second, unofficial sticker, the product of an enterprising sceptic with access to a commercial printer, or might further inquiry have uncovered the hand of some agency of the liquor or hospitality industries, intent on protecting their market? Who knows?

A second direction, less explored by researchers but in my view of more relevance to understanding alcohol policies and their impact, begins with the invitation implied here--a tongue-in-cheek invitation--to resist, or at least not be intimidated by, the authorities' efforts to impose constraints on the everyday practices of liquor consumption. If you make it home you're a legend. What does this resistance signify? Why does it matter, and how should we seek to understand it? In this article, I attempt to address these three questions. Along the way, I also look briefly at the question of why alcohol researchers have not, at least recently, paid much attention to resistance to alcohol policies.

Exploring Resistance

The relevance of resistance to alcohol control measures is not a new consideration. In an essay originally published more than 50 years ago, Lemert pointed out that attempts to change people's drinking behavior usually altered the costs to them of satisfying their liquor-related desires, with a result that such attempts were likely to provoke resistance. "A consideration of the amount, the duration, and the form of the resistance," he added, "must be a part of the study of social action to control drinking" (Lemert, 1962/1991, p. 685). The late Joseph Gusfield (1991) subsequently argued that resistance, not to alcohol policies per se but to the administrative rationality of which they were an expression, was implicated in the very act of drinking, which had become (at least in the contemporary U.S. where he was situated) "a symbol of the irrational, the impulsive, the 'free' side of life" (p. 418). The association of drinking with irresponsibility and unpredictability was part of its appeal, Gusfield argued, and efforts to promote "responsible drinking" were often chasing "a contradiction in terms."

The notion that drinking, in particular male drinking, is an expression of resistance against the demands of the workplace, and/or domesticity is one that has been explored in a number of social contexts, including working class pubs in Finland in the 1970s (Alasuutari, 1985) and Sydney in the late 1980s (Tomsen, 1997). Tomsen's ethnographic study of drinking in three hotels and two licensed clubs in Sydney, all of them known to be relatively violent drinking locations, is particularly interesting in that he initially explained the violence observed as unintended by-products of situational factors identified in other studies in Canada and the U.K., such as the presence of groups of male strangers, uncomfortable settings, and the pharmacological effects of alcohol. Later, as he explored further the subjective experiences of collective drinking, he came to see that the violence and social disorder that so often erupted were valued parts of the rule-breaking carnival atmosphere in which participants delighted in flouting middle-class values and challenging authority. Fighting was part of the fun. One night, as he stood outside a pub watching a melee erupt, he asked a man standing next to him what was going on. The man replied that he had no idea what the brawl was about or who the people were. A little later, Tomsen was startled to see the same man hurl himself into the fray.
   The delight in a sense of pandemonium that violence can play a key
   role in generating, was evident on many occasions including an
   evening in one key venue characterized by rough ejections, group
   brawling, and staff fights with patrons. Drinkers particularly
   enjoyed the arrival of a police wagon full of confused officers
   responding to a management call for assistance, a wild argument
   between a night manager and hotel guests, and the simultaneous
   appearance of an ambulance treating an overdosed youth. This
   ongoing melodrama caused a growing crowd of patrons to gather
   outside for a better view of events. (1997, p. 97)

Tomsen, it should be added, concludes by cautioning against both pathologizing and romanticizing the violence he observed.

More recently, evidence of an apparent increase in the prevalence and intensity of binge drinking among young people in several countries has spawned a number of studies, some of which note the presence of resistance to controls. Measham and Brain (2005), in a study conducted in Manchester, England, in 2004, reported that most respondents--regardless of age, gender, or setting--set out not simply to drink but to get drunk. They coined the phrase "determined drunkenness" to describe a stratagem for attaining a "controlled loss of control" (2005, p. 273)--that is, a state offering access to the pleasures of "letting go" while affording a degree of protection against the associated risks. Szmigin et al. (2008) proposed the term "calculated hedonism" as an alternative to binge drinking, suggesting that the latter as a concept failed to take account of the pleasures of intoxication, and of the fact, that among drinkers in today's consumerist societies, control and hedonism are no longer viewed as incompatible. A recent Australian study exploring the efforts by young people to balance the pleasures of "letting go" with a desire for safety suggests the need, at least in the Australian context, for a more nuanced understanding of the pursuit of intoxication (Zajdow & MacLean, 2014).

The growing interconnections between alcohol consumption, social media, and industry marketing in shaping young people's drinking cultures are captured, in the case of New Zealand, in the aptly named study by Lyons et al., "Flaunting it on Facebook" (2014). In a study based on 34 friendship-based focus groups involving 141 people aged 18 to 25--including Pakeha (White New Zealander), Maori, and Pasifika (New Zealanders from Pacific Islands origin or descent) groups--they found a pervasive culture of drinking to intoxication, and celebrating consumption through uploading and sharing photos on Facebook "before, during and following drinking episodes" (2014, p. 4), tagging and untagging photos to manipulate appropriate displays of identity. The researchers also found that many participants made use of online promotional materials created by alcohol companies without being aware of the origins or objectives of the material. As a result, alcohol brands became incorporated into young people's everyday lives and identities (Lyons et al., 2014).

In a paper published in 2006, Measham (2006) examined the policy implications of trying to address the "culture of intoxication" within a framework of harm minimization (p. 258). She acknowledges that the values of moderate consumption guided by an understanding of safe drinking levels, central to the latter, collide with a culture of hedonistic excess and intoxication, sustained by economic and legislative deregulation, and promoted by a politically and economically powerful industry. She notes that the emergent culture of intoxication in the U.K. has grown out of a much older northern European drinking pattern of "weekday restraint/weekend excess," with traditional forms of self-regulation augmented today by practices such as seeking information about risks through journals available online. At the same time, she notes evidence of deliberate transgression of recommended drinking levels. Her observations, however, do not lead to any focus on the nature and wellsprings of resistance; rather she calls for greater efforts to understand the contexts and experiences of young people's drinking, in the hope that "we can better understand the relationship between self-regulation, social regulation, and economic deregulation of alcohol within the current cultural context of weekend determined drunkenness" (Measham, 2006, p. 266).

What these studies and others in the same vein indicate, I suggest, is that insofar as drinking (and other drug use) are enlisted in the pursuit of pleasure--with or without "determined drunkenness"-resistance to what are seen as the demands and constraints of the dominant social order, whether as workplace requirements, domestic routines, or the regulation of behavior in public spaces, forms part of the meaning of drinking and drinking occasions for those involved. The question is, what part? This is not easily answered. An anonymous reviewer, commenting on an earlier version of this article, captured the issue nicely when he or she asked "how do we know when to interpret a behavior like binge drinking as resistance, as inertia, as a pursuit of pleasure, as self-medication, a response to specific social contexts, and are these interpretations mutually exclusive?" Resistance is an elusive notion.

Theorizing Resistance

Both the elusiveness and the pervasiveness of resistance become explicable, however, as instances of everyday practices as theorized by Michel de Certeau (1984). For de Certeau, it is through the practices of everyday life that individuals consume what society produces, whether these be goods, services, spaces, forms of leisure, rules of entitlement, and so on. Consumption, however, is not simply a process of passive incorporation. The utilization of a product according to de Certeau is an act of production in its own right, one that he calls "the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilization" (1984, p. xiv). Utilizing products involves appropriating, manipulating, adapting. Where consumption occurs in a context of power disparities, it also involves resistance to the constraints imposed by the more powerful on the less powerful.

de Certeau distinguishes two kinds of practice: strategies and tactics. Strategies are the practices of agents with power to impose relations and conditions on an external spatial or institutional domain. (As he notes, economic, political, and scientific rationality are constructed on this strategic model.) Tactics are the practices deployed by those who lack such powers, whose practices necessarily occur in contexts shaped by others. Tactics are about manipulating events and seizing opportunities to turn them to advantage. Ruses devised on the factory floor or by workers in the office are examples of tactical practices; so are everyday activities such as shopping, eating, walking in the city. So too, although de Certeau does not single it out, is drinking liquor, while the policies devised by public health or law enforcement agencies are strategic in nature.

Resistance, viewed in this light, can be both strategic and tactical. International free trade agreements, for example, constitute among other things a space within which alcohol industry interests can mount strategic resistance to domestic alcohol control policies, by invoking provisions of the World Trade Organization and other bodies (Zeigler, 2009). As a practice in everyday life--the focus of this article--resistance is more likely to be tactical, part of the business of "getting by."

This way of thinking about resistance has three implications for the present inquiry: Firstly, we should not expect to find resistance in a pure form, as a practice in itself, but rather, in most instances, as a component of everyday tactical practices. Secondly, as de Certeau notes, the presence and nature of everyday tactical practices cannot be documented through statistical regularities; they are usually too ephemeral. Thirdly, they cannot usually be analyzed at the level of discourse, since in many instances they are not incorporated in discourses or discursive formations. Resistance is a practice--an action--not a text. Taken together, these last two characteristics mean that resistance as an everyday practice is likely to be invisible to much social research, at least insofar as two of the most favored styles of social research involve searching for statistical regularities or analyzing texts as part of discourses. These characteristics help to explain the lack of attention paid by researchers to resistance to alcohol controls as an everyday practice.

They also help to account for the exception to this observation, namely, the limited research that explores resistance to health promotion messages and other manifestations of public health discourse. Such messages lend themselves to analysis as a health discourse. For example, Brooks (2011) conducted interviews and focus groups with 35 women aged 18-25 years, exploring their responses to safety advice in relation to drinking in bars, pubs, and clubs in Scotland, and their safety-related behaviors in these settings. She found a mix of acceptance of and resistance to safety advice, some of it exhibited in contradictory fashion. She attributed the findings to a variety of factors, including a sense that the women knew enough to manage without the advice, and resentment at a discourse that effectively made women responsible for their own safety, while sexually predatory behavior by men was accepted as inevitable and unchangeable.

Others have found that health promotion messages are not so much resisted but rather dismissed as irrelevant to managing one's behavior. Lindsay argues, on the basis of a number of studies, that people attempt to manage their consumption of alcohol, food, and other substances, but they do so within "a complex and contradictory social environment" (2010, p. 483), in which guidelines for healthy living are seen as having little relevance. Harrison, Kelly, Lindsay, Advocat, and Hickey (2011) interviewed 60 young people aged 20-24 in Victoria, Australia, about their understandings and use of alcohol, and their perceptions regarding guidelines for "low-risk" drinking that had been released shortly before by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Again, the researchers found that the guidelines were seen as irrelevant, largely because they failed to acknowledge the importance of pleasure, sociability, and "the complex relations between discipline and abandon" that influenced the ways in which young people used alcohol (Harrison, Kelly, Lindsay, Advocat, & Hickey, 2011, p. 470). Similarly, Hallett, McManus, Maycock, Smith, and Howat (2014) conducted a series of focus groups among undergraduate students at an Australian university, all of whom had been screened as engaging in hazardous alcohol consumption, in order to explore their drinking patterns, perceptions of harm and safety, and receptivity to health messages designed to curb risky drinking. The researchers found that the situational and cultural contexts in which drinking occurred encouraged heavy drinking and intoxication and that perceived safety in drinking had nothing to do with limiting amounts consumed but was rather a function of drinking in a known environment with trusted companions. Most of the 69 participants in the study, the authors report, regarded health messages about standard drink sizes and safe drinking guidelines as "irrelevant and unrealistic" and even, in some cases, as explicit objects of resistance. One male participant is quoted as saying "You ignore health warnings because you know you are going to be having five or six pints anyway," while another recalled: "I went to this doctor, had a chat about my drinking and stuff, and she restricted me to four standard drinks a night and two alcohol-free days during the week. It was fun to break. 'Gee, 1 had five drinks tonight'" (Hallett, McManus, Maycock, Smith, & Howat, 2014, pp. 621-622). The authors conclude by suggesting that in future designers of health messages should make more effort to involve young drinkers themselves in formulating messages. The implication here is that transgression of health advice is a result of a failure in communication or marketing, rather than--as the present critique would suggest--an integral, deliberately courted part of what makes drinking an enjoyable experience for these young people.

Studies such as these recognize the presence of resistance but appear to lack the conceptual or theoretical means of grasping its nature or significance. A similar lack of analytical clarity occurs in other studies of public health discourse. Thompson and Kumar (2011), for example, explored responses to health promotion messages that urged citizens in New Zealand to eat fruit and vegetables and exercise regularly, convening six focus groups that involved a combined total of 24 people aged between 16 and 60 years. The researchers identified "resistance" as one of the three key concepts underpinning these responses--the other two being "denial" and "othering." What they designated as resistance, however, amounted to nothing more than an expressed dislike on the part of focus group participants at being told what to do in health promotion messages. Resistance, in other words, had been equated with resentment.

To some extent, this is probably an artifact of the research approach. If resistance is a form of action as, following de Certeau, I argue here, it is hardly likely to reveal itself in a focus group discussion about healthy living guidelines. In any case, health promotion guidelines are only one of the constraints that policy makers attempt to impose on drinking and, in many drinking contexts, almost certainly not the most salient. What people think about them, therefore, cannot be read as indicative of the part that power and resistance to power may or may not play in drinking settings.

A number of scholars, exploring more broadly the so-called new public health of which health promotion guidelines are part, have also touched on resistance (Petersen, Davis, Fraser, & Lindsay, 2010; Petersen & Lupton, 1996). Public health in this context is seen as a form of neoliberal governmentality (Dean, 1999), under which citizens are increasingly expected to monitor and regulate their exposure to an array of risks--relating to food, exercise, alcohol, and other perils--the dimensions of which are scientifically calculated and promulgated by experts (Petersen et al., 2010; Petersen & Lupton, 1996). Failure to conform to the dictates of what some have dubbed "healthism" (Crawford, 1980) is seen as a failure of self-regulation, incurring moral opprobrium and, in some instances, stigmatization and sanctions. Inspired by the work of Foucault and the governmentality theorists, these scholars portray the new public health as a form of diffuse power which, like any relations of power according to Foucault, also entails resistance (Foucault, 1978, p. 95). For example, Katainen (2007) examined 1,426 comments about smoking in 14 web-discussion threads, dealing with smoking, drawn from a popular website operated by the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat. The author discusses ways in which smokers deal with the risks of smoking (the reality of which, by and large, they accept) and concludes by suggesting that resistance to the imperatives of the "new public health" can take the form not only of active protest but also of indifference to the risks, withdrawal, and passivity.

In general, however, critical studies in this tradition devote less attention to resistance than to the mechanisms through which power is exercised and expectations placed upon citizens. Lebesco (2011), for example, describes in some detail the surveillance mechanisms and intrusive regulations deployed in some U.S. jurisdictions to forestall a feared "epidemic" of obesity among children, but touches only briefly on resistance, speculating that fatness itself may constitute resistance, either as "an agentic 'no' to biopower or a more ambivalent, less baldly volitional experience of embodied resistance" (p. 161).

Analyzing Resistance

How, then, might we enhance our understanding of resistance to alcohol controls and examine it more analytically? It is useful here to turn to other areas of sociology, where resistance as a concept has come under increasing attention. In 2004, Hollander and Einwohner, noting the conceptual looseness that had grown up around the term, reviewed usages, and attempted to bring some order to the concept.

Among the differences to be found in ways of defining resistance, they identified two common components: resistance involves action and it is oppositional. Hollander and Einwohner (2004) also identified four key attributes of resistance: it is interactional, linked to power and domination, socially constructed (one person's self-proclaimed resistance may not be accorded that status by others), and complex in at least two ways: firstly, it is often found to exist alongside various forms of accommodation and complicity, and secondly, individuals can be powerful and powerless at the same time in different social systems. They also note a diversity of definitions and conceptualizations according to whether the actions are overt or covert, intentional or not, visible to the intended targets or not, and visible or not to other observers.

Hynes (2013) builds on Hollander and Einwohner's conceptualization, arguing a need to extend both the sociological scope of the concept and its meaning. She notes, firstly, that most sociological studies of resistance have hitherto focused on two levels of analysis: macropolitical studies of collective action, such as social movements and revolutions, and micropolitical analyses of resistance by individuals in everyday life. She draws attention to a sphere of social activity that sits between these two--called by some meso-political--characterized by what she labels an "indeterminate sociality." It is in this sphere that viral marketing and other applications of social media operate, such as the Facebook work described by Lyons et al. above. Analytically, it is also where the Hilux driver and his pair of bumper stickers, with which I began this article, sits. Hynes suggests that it is within this intermediate sphere that our relationships and connections increasingly become "entangled" with contemporary forms of power. She also calls for more attention to be paid to the affective dimension of resistance, arguing that doing so may bring to light forms of resistance not recognized by conventional conceptual frameworks.

Campbell (2013) similarly seeks to broaden the concept of resistance to allow for a more nuanced understanding of its affective and performative aspects. Writing from a cultural criminological perspective about crime and urban spatiality, she argues that the concept of resistance is too restrictive in that it implies a direct challenge to the status quo, an expression of opposition to power, whereas "crimes" such as writing graffiti in urban spaces are better thought of as transgressions. Drawing on Jenks (2003), she conceptualizes transgression as a questioning of categories and boundaries between categories, a contestation of the meanings of space (and other entities) that opens up the possibility of multiple meanings.

In applying these insights to the study of alcohol control measures, we need to begin by recognizing that policies aimed at reducing alcohol-related harms are strategic expressions of the very technocratic rationality against which at least some drinking behavior is a form of resistance. Instruments such as the low-risk drinking guidelines published in Australia by the NHMRC appeal to a rational consumer in the hope that he or she will govern his or her desires by heeding the scientific evidence made available. Should the appeals go unheeded, other measures are deployed that utilize the coercive powers of the state either by manipulating drinking contexts or costs, for example, by regulating trading hours or imposing lockouts in late night precincts, or by invoking police powers and laws targeting individual drinkers which, as Room (2012) has observed, have been increasingly invoked in a number of jurisdictions seeking to manage the consequences of pervasive deregulation of the liquor industry. Sometimes statutory measures are supported by a discourse emphasizing the role of evidence in selecting measures. While the use of evidence is of course preferable to the alternative (and frequently found) practice of adopting politically attractive policies for which there is little or no evidence base, we should not be blind to the fact that phrases like "evidence based" are displays of symbolic power, wielded to invoke the authority of scientific rationality. Population health measures such as minimum pricing carry an additional burden in that, by their very nature, they confront the dominant cultural value in contemporary capitalist societies that assigns near-sovereign powers to individuals conceived as consumers, thereby widening the net of potential resisters beyond the drinkers being targeted. At the same time, it is important not to conflate the concept of resistance, which implies action of some sort in response to power, with disagreement per se, which may lead to nothing more than grumbling or the resentment noted by Thompson and Kumar above.

Studying resistance to alcohol controls should involve observing the origins and development of resistance to particular measures in particular contexts; the forms it takes; the tactics and strategies deployed; the participants engaged; the rules, meanings, and definitions contested; the rhetorical devices deployed; the audiences before which it is enacted, and the sociological levels at which it takes place: the micro-social level of individual acts of resistance in everyday life, the macro-social level of organizations and social movements, and/or the intermediate social level constituted by loose and sometimes transient networks of interaction. Methodologically, it is difficult to see how resistance as conceptualized here can be studied other than by an ethnographic approach that combines extended observation in naturalistic settings (to which, in many instances, access must be negotiated over time) with in-depth interviewing and documentary sources.

Indigenous Drinking and Resistance

One area where resistance to alcohol controls has received attention is in regard to drinking by indigenous populations in Fourth World settings, notably Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S. This is partly because the power differentials involved are so pronounced, and partly because both the exercise of power and resistance to power are often conducted more publicly than occurs in other settings.

As several observers have noted, control over access by indigenous populations to alcohol has historically been an important instrument in exercising dominance over these populations (Morgan, 1983; Sargent, 1979; Valverde, 1998). Morgan argues that discourses about the disinhibiting effects imputed to alcohol among particular social groups or categories are used as a "rhetoric of justification" for social control (1983, p. 410), while Valverde cites instances from the U.S. and Canada of what she labels as governing race indirectly through controlling access to liquor. All of these countries prohibited possession and consumption of liquor by indigenous people for several decades until the second half of the 20th century. In many parts of Australia, particularly the "frontier" regions of the north, prohibition on Aboriginal drinking and on access to urban space went hand in hand, promulgated initially through "protectionist" and later "assimilationist" policies that prevailed until the late 1960s. Although both policies were justified paternalistically as being in the interests of Aboriginal people, the exclusions from urban space and alcohol were mechanisms imposed in order to define and maintain the boundaries of an emerging, mainly White settler society.

Both types of prohibition were contested by Aboriginal people in Australia, most conspicuously in bouts of binge drinking on the fringes of urban spaces. In North America, where similar policies were introduced much earlier with respect to American Indians, Lurie (1971) highlighted the presence of resistance by labeling American Indian drinking patterns "the world's longest on-going protest demonstration." Lurie's article, published in 1971, challenged the then prevalent explanation for American Indian binge drinking as an expression of low self-esteem and perceived inferiority by reframing it as a deliberate expression of Indianness that mocked the stereotypes and controls imposed by the dominant society.

Following the dismantling of controls on Aboriginal settlement and drinking in the 1960s in Australia, overtly race-based mechanisms could no longer be used to police drinking or occupancy of urban spaces by Aboriginal people. Far from disappearing, however, contestation and resistance took on new guises, usually in the name of combating public drunkenness in urban spaces. Governments continue to this day to devise and refine laws prohibiting drinking in public places frequented by Aboriginal drinkers (and sometimes, more quietly, excising places frequented by non-Aboriginal drinkers). One Australian jurisdiction--the Northern Territory--has also recently legislated to make any person who is apprehended for public drunkenness three or more times in 2 months liable to undergo mandatory treatment for up to 3 months, while any person charged with an offense punishable by 6 months' imprisonment or more, where the offender is considered to have been under the influence of alcohol at the time of committing the offense, can be subject to an Alcohol Protection Order. Under the latter, he or she is forbidden from possessing or consuming alcohol or entering a licensed premises. (1) Elsewhere I have reported on the recent case of one Aboriginal man who, in the space of less than 2 years, was consigned twice to mandatory residential treatment, from which he absconded on seven occasions, and served with 20 Alcohol Protection Orders, the first of which followed on from his being charged with theft of goods worth a total value of SA4.20 (namely, a bread roll, some meat, and orange juice) from a supermarket (d'Abbs, in press). Faced with constant harassment, groups of Aboriginal drinkers continue to do what they have long done: purchase liquor from the many outlets only too happy to supply them and run the gauntlet of police to wherever they can sit down and drink in peace, however fleeting. Their very presence is a form of continuing resistance, of what one anthropologist has labeled an "oppositional culture" through which they can ignore demands for conformity and resist the labels imposed on them (Cowlishaw, 1994). Another ethnographer, Day (2006), argues that heavy drinking and associated "anti-social behavior" by residents of Aboriginal fringe camps serve to insulate them from attempts by the state or its agencies to infiltrate or incorporate them.

Resistance can take multiple forms. In 2002, the government of another Australian jurisdiction--Queensland-- introduced new restrictions on supply of alcohol in 19 indigenous communities, following an inquiry that revealed high levels of alcohol-related violence and community dysfunction (Cape York Justice Study, 2001; Queensland Government, 2002). At the time, the CEO of one community publicly foreshadowed resistance, telling a news journalist:

You can talk to us today and say do you understand and all the time we're saying yeah, yeah, yeah but we don't give a stuff about what you're trying to solve, you know, we can resist it because it's not ours. We've got to solve the problem. I mean this been proven in [sic] indigenous people right throughout the world. (Sales, 2002)

While the CEO's comments could be read as resistance at a rhetorical level, other events revealed glimpses of both tactical and strategic displays of resistance. In May 2008, an Aboriginal woman was convicted and fined SA150 for carrying two bottles of spirits onto an Aboriginal island community, in breach of alcohol limits in place under an Alcohol Management Plan (High Court of Australia, 2013). Four years later, following an unsuccessful appeal against her conviction to a lower court, she appealed to the High Court of Australia on the grounds that restrictions under the community AMP breached the Racial Discrimination Act. The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples was also a party to the appeal. In 2013, the appeal was dismissed (High Court of Australia, 2013).

In the meantime, in 2012, police had apprehended a boat bound for the island carrying 30 cartons of mid-strength beer as well as bottles of spirits. Among those on board was the mayor of the community, who was subsequently charged with "sly grogging" (Australian Associated Press [AAP], 2013; Templeton, 2012).

These events, all of which have entered into the public domain, are visible markers of a far more extensive network of events and relationships, of what de Certeau (1984) described as "the microscopic, multiform, and innumerable connections between manipulating and enjoying, the fleeting and massive reality of a social activity at play with the order that contains it" (p. xxiv).


Resistance--the "social activity at play with the order that contains it"--is a ubiquitous part of the power relationships that structure alcohol controls. In this article, I have argued that it is also a neglected part and, when not neglected, poorly understood. A more sociologically informed theorizing of resistance, such as I have begun to sketch here, combined with the more painstaking research methods required to grasp what are in many cases ephemeral practices, may redress the neglect, and contribute to a more nuanced understanding of alcohol policies and their place in society.

DOI: 10.1177/0091450915587535


This is a revised version of a paper prepared for a symposium on Alcohol Policy Research held by the Kettil Bruun Society for Social and Epidemiological Research on Alcohol, Melbourne, September 8-11, 2014. 1 would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


Alasuutari, P. (1985). The male suburban pub-goer and the meaning structure of drinking. Acta Sociologica, 28, 87-97.

Australian Associated Press. (2013, July 29). Palm Island mayor Alf Lacey pleads guilty to sly-grogging. The Australian. Retrieved from December 15, 2014, lacey- pleads-guilty-to-sly-grogging/story-e6frg6nf-1226687376084

Brooks, O. (2011). 'Guys! Stop doing it!': Young women's adoption and rejection of safety advice when socializing in bars, pubs and clubs. British Journal of Criminology, 51, 635-651.

Campbell, E. (2013). Transgression, affect and performance: Choreographing a politics of urban space. British Journal of Criminology, 53, 18 40.

Cape York Justice Study. (2001). Cape York justice study report. Brisbane, Australia: Department of Premier and Cabinet, Queensland Government.

Cowlishaw, G. (1994). Policing the races. Social Analysis, 36, 71-92.

Crawford, R. (1980). Healthism and the medicalization of everyday life. International Journal of Health Services, 10, 365-388.

d'Abbs, P. (2004). Alignment of the policy planets: Behind the implementation of the Northern Territory (Australia) Living With Alcohol Program. Drug and Alcohol Review, 23, 55-65.

d'Abbs, P. (in press). Widening the gap: The gulf between policy rhetoric and implementation reality. Drug and Alcohol Review.

Day, W. (2006). Aboriginal fringe dwellers in Darwin, Australia: Cultural persistence or a culture of resistance? (Revised in 2006). PhD, University of Western Australia, Perth. Retrieved from December 11, 2014, http://

Dean, M. (1999). Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. London, England: Sage, de Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life (S. Rendall, Trans.). Berkeley: University of California Press. Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality, volume 1: An introduction (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.

Gusfield, J. (1991). Benevolent repression: Popular culture, social structure, and the control of drinking. In S. Barrows & R. Room (Eds.), Drinking: Behavior and belief in modern history (pp. 399 424). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hallett, J., McManus, A., Maycock, B. R., Smith, J., & Howat, P. M. (2014). "Excessive drinking--An inescapable part of university life?" A focus group study of Australian undergraduates. Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4, 616-629.

Harrison, L., Kelly, P., Lindsay, J., Advocat, J., & Hickey, C. (2011). 'I don't know anyone that has two drinks a day': Young people, alcohol and the government of pleasure. Health, Risk and Society, If 469-485.

High Court of Australia. (2013). Maloney v The Queen [2013] HCA 28 (June 19, 2013). Canberra: Author.

Hollander, J. A., & Einwohner, R. L. (2004). Conceptualising resistance. Sociological Forum, 19, 533-554.

Hynes, M. (2013). Reconceptualizing resistance: Sociology and the affective dimension of resistance. British Journal of Sociology, 64, 559-577.

Jenks, C. (2003). Transgression. London, England: Routledge.

Katainen, A. (2007). Challenging the imperatives of health? Smoking and justifications of risk-taking. Critical Public Health, 16, 295-305.

Lebesco, K. (2011). Neoliberalism, public health, and the moral perils of fatness. Critical Public Health, 21, 153-164.

Lemert, E. M. (1991). Alcohol, values, and social control. In D. J. Pittman & H. R. White (Eds.), Society, culture, and drinking patterns reexamined (pp. 681-701). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. (Original work published 1962)

Lindsay, J. (2010). Healthy living guidelines and the disconnect with everyday life. Critical Public Health, 20, 475-487.

Lurie, N. O. (1971). The world's oldest on-going protest demonstration: North American Indian drinking patterns. Pacific Historical Review, 40, 311-332.

Lyons, A., McCreanor, T., Hutton, F., Goodwin, 1., Barnes, H. M., Griffin, C., ... Samu, L. (2014). Flaunting it on Facebook: Young adults, drinking cultures and the cult of celebrity. Wellington, New Zealand: Massey University School of Psychology.

Measham, F. (2006). The new policy mix: Alcohol, harm minimisation, and determined drunkenness in contemporary society. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17, 258-268.

Measham, F., & Brain, K. (2005). "Binge" drinking, British alcohol policy and the new culture of intoxication. Crime, Media, Culture, 1, 262-283.

Morgan, P. (1983). Alcohol, disinhibition, and domination: A conceptual analysis. In R. Room & G. Collins (Eds.), Alcohol and disinhibition: The nature and meaning of the link. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Research Monograph No. 12 (pp. 405 420). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Petersen, A., Davis, M., Fraser, S., & Lindsay, J. (2010). Healthy living and citizenship: An overview. Critical Public Health, 20, 391-400.

Petersen, A., & Lupton, D. (1996). The new public health: Health and self in the age of risk. St. Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Queensland Government. (2002). Meeting challenges, making choices: The Queensland government's response to the Cape York justice study. Brisbane, Australia: Author.

Room, R. (2012). Individualised control of drinkers: Back to the future? Contemporary Drug Problems, 39, 311-343.

Sales, L. (2002, March 21). Dispute over indigenous communities report. ABC AM Archive. Retrieved from December 15, 2014,

Sargent, M. J. (1979). Drinking and alcoholism in Australia: A power relations theory. Melbourne, Australia: Longman Cheshire.

Skov, S., Chikritzhs, T., Li, S., Pircher, S., & Whetton, S. (2010). How much is too much? Alcohol consumption and related harm in the Northern Territory. Medical Journal of Australia, 193, 269-272.

Stockwell, T., Chikritzhs, T., Hendrie, D., Fordham, R., Ying, F., Phillips, M., ... O'Reilly, B. (2001). The public health and safety benefits of the Northern Territory's Living With Alcohol Programme. Drug and Alcohol Review, 20, 167-180.

Szmigin, 1., Griffin, C., Mistral, W., Bengry-Howell, A., Weale, L., & Hackley, C. (2008). Re-framing 'binge drinking' as calculated hedonism: Empirical evidence from the UK. International Journal of Drug Policy, 19, 359-366.

Templeton, A. (2012, February 3). Palm Island mutiny over illegal grog running case. The Australian. Retrieved from December 15, 2014, running- case/story-fn3dxity-1226261378319

Thompson, L., & Kumar, A. (2011). Responses to health promotion campaigns: Resistance, denial and othering. Critical Public Health, 21, 105-117.

Tomsen, S. (1997). A top night: Social protest, masculinity and the culture of drinking violence. British Journal of Criminology, 37, 90-102.

Val verde, M. (1998). Diseases of the wilt: Alcohol and the dilemmas of freedom. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Zajdow, G., & MacLean, S. (2014). "1 just drink for that tipsy stage": Young adults and embodied management of alcohol use. Contemporary Drug Problems, 41, 522-535.

Zeigler, D. W. (2009). The alcohol industry and trade agreements: A preliminary assessment. Addiction, 104, 13-26.


(1) (retrieved August 22, 2014); http://www. (retrieved August 22, 2014).

Author Biography

Peter d'Abbs is a sociologist with a research background in alcohol and other drug policy issues and in program evaluation. Fie is currently a professor of substance misuse studies, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, and holds honorary positions with the School of Population Health, University of Queensland, and with James Cook University, Queensland, Australia.

Peter d'Abbs (1)

(1) Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Australia

Received December 15, 2014. Accepted for publication April 27, 2015.

Corresponding Author: Peter d'Abbs, Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, Australia. Email:
COPYRIGHT 2015 Sage Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Alcohol Policy Research: Putting Together a Global Evidence Base
Author:d'Abbs, Peter
Publication:Contemporary Drug Problems
Date:Jun 22, 2015
Previous Article:Ireland's Public Health (Alcohol) Bill: policy window or political sop?
Next Article:Problematizations in alcohol policy: WHO's "alcohol problems".

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |