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Alcohol and Culture Change: Current Challenges and Conundrums Ann M Roche Director, National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction, NCETA Flinders University Thinking Drinking 3, Brisbane 5-7 August 2009 What is Culture?

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alcohol and culture change current challenges and conundrums
Alcohol and Culture Change: Current Challenges and Conundrums

Ann M RocheDirector,

National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction,



Thinking Drinking 3, Brisbane 5-7 August 2009

what is culture
What is Culture?
  • Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs,values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions.
  • Culture is communication, communication is culture.
  • Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group's skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.
  • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour acquired and transmitted by symbols, the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action.
  • Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

Where Does Alcohol Sit?Dominant social relations construct the object and shape the discourse. Hence alcohol has been variously seen as: a necessity of life, a poisonous substance, a hazardous drug, a social lubricant or a key element of the economy (Foucault, 1995).

Alcohol’s changing historical perspective:

1830’s issue of free trade

Mid-Victorian era issue of individual morality

+1880’s increasingly a question of social reform

During WWI issue of national efficiency

inter-war years issue of leisure, & town planning

Post WWII re-emerged as a medical issue

Then emerged as a public disorder issue with concern over anti-social behaviour by young people

Defined also as a part of the leisure industry and tourism which frames the issue in terms of leisure and tourism rather than health or public order

Also a central part of global corporatisation and contemporary libertarian world view

(e.g. David Korten ‘When Corporations Rule the World’)

Alcohol issues are complex – involve leisure, food, town planning, free markets, public order ….
  • Both culture change and policy shift can be achieved if both the venue and discourse allow new alliances to flourish (Greenaway, 2008)
  • Western culture possess two defining features: materialism and individualism
  • danger of simplifying the politics of alcohol by neglecting the importance of the framing of and discourse on issues
  • The anti-smoking analogy is of limited value
evidence based practice and policy
Evidence Based Practice and Policy
  • Research and evidence is the cornerstone of culture change
  • While EBP is of fundamental importance, not all initiatives need to be evidence based !
  • [note introduction of needle availability to counteract spread of HIV AIDS – NOT an evidence based strategy, but proved to be highly successful].
  • Must also engage in innovative work to be able to move forward
  • Trust our intuition, judgement and aspirations
tipping point gladwell 2001

Tipping Point(Gladwell, 2001)

‘punctuated equilibrium’

(Baumgartner and Jones, 1993)

what s changed
What’s Changed?
  • Many important social changes in families, lifestyles & women’s roles
  • Concept of ‘Youth’
  • Concept of ‘Culture’
  • Eternal pursuit of ‘Youthfulness’
  • Commodification of leisure
  • Views about work/life balance
  • Drinking patterns (incl. what we drink, how we drink)
  • Implications for ‘Low Risk’ drinking and prevention
YP stay in education longer
  • Sexual intercourse experienced earlier and earlier ages (42% years 10-12 had had sexual intercourse (2002)
  • More unsupervised time
  • Different experience of ‘family’ : 1 in 6 families in 2006 were single-parent families vs 1 in 17 in 1970’s
  • Get married later (21/23 yrs,1970 – 28/30 yrs, 2005)
  • 3 M’s deferred (Marriage, Mortgage, Maternity)
  • Live at home longer (KIPPERS)
  • Have more expendable income
  • Different views about work/life balance
  • Leisure and recreation a greater priority and we live in an increasingly individualised and socially disconnected world
nceta research
NCETA Research

Cultural focus :

– examines role of social, economic & political influences

new nceta report qualitative research 14 24 year olds 20 fg 90 interviews 12 field observations
New NCETA Report Qualitative Research 14-24 year olds (20 FG, 90 interviews, 12 field observations)

Key themes:

  • Sociality and imperative to belong, demonstrate commitment x risk taking
  • Negotiating ever changing social interactions – issue of confidence
  • Lack of viable non-drinking identities [and real world] options
  • Duty of care [esp. among females]
  • Gender issues and the invisible male in ‘regrettable’ incidents

Individual freedom vs controlExcess vs ConstraintEconomic neoliberalism and globalizationPleasure vs pathologyPursuit of happiness vs good in a consumer society

leisure lifestyle
Leisure Lifestyle
  • Consumer culture

characterised by recreation and indulgence

  • Greater emphasis placed on work-life balance
leisure and lifestyle
Leisure and Lifestyle
  • consumption is central to the leisure experience
  • leisure is central to one’s image
  • aspirational, risk-taking, status-defining, and image-enhancing leisure time pursuits

(Measham, 2004)

leisure lifestyle16
Leisure Lifestyle

Consumption of alcohol:

  • Popular leisure activity
  • Important element of socialisation
  • Identity within and distinction between friendship groups
  • Excessive consumption
  • Has become normative
the absence of society zygmund bauman 2008
The Absence of Society(Zygmund Bauman, 2008)

Describes current driving force of behaviour as no longer the desire to:

“…keep up with the Joneses, but the infuriatingly nebulous idea of catching up with supermodels, premier league footballers and top-ten singers.”

Some argue that materialism drives us to consume alcohol (and drugs) because materialism cannot fulfill our search for meaning.

  • Seems axiomatic that pleasure is one of the main motivators for alcohol use. But rarely mentioned or reflected in our policies. Our policies suggest that alcohol use only ever emerges from or leads to misery, ill health, and social dysfunction.
  • Speaking the unspeakable. Alcohol use and leisure activities with which it is associated are inherently about pleasure.
  • Much neglected area of public health (since time of Plato)
  • Too hard to deal with?
  • Ignore, disparage, relegate to the inconsequential at our peril.
field observation field note excerpt 3
Field Observation [field note excerpt #3]

Observer at Good Vibrations Music Festival:

“Entering the grounds of the music festival was like entering another world for the day…there is a sense that social rules and ways of relating to each other were quite different from the outside world, allowing people to engage with each other with a sense of freedom, free from the formality of being among strangers in the “real world”. There was a sense of community… freedom from normal social conventions, like they were all in it together.”

market forces
Market Forces
  • Market forces - global
  • Advertising/Marketing influence young people’s decisions about drinking:
    • When to drink (initiation)
    • What to drink
    • How much to drink
    • Where to drink
    • Who to drink with
  • Advertising/Marketing – part of cultural context
  • Sponsorship
  • Branded promotional material
  • Point-of-Sale
  • Position
  • Films, TV, music
  • “Happy Hour”
  • “Pre-loading”
generational change new ways of drinking
Generational change = new ways of drinking
  • Drinking style of young people differs to adult counterparts e.g., “determined drunkenness”, “vertical drinking”
impact of alcohol consumption on young people newbury birch et al 2009
Protective Factors

Location of first drink – children who first use alcohol in a home environment and learn about its effects from parents are less likely to misuse alcohol than those who begin drinking outside the home with peers

Delaying time of first drink

Having adults who have good relationships with appropriate levels of control and support

Controlled alcohol use is not predictive of later problems

Religious affiliation, esp attendance at religious services

Informed and supportive parental guidance and delay in age of initiation

Positive Consequences

Some YP benefit from increased confidence when communicating with the opposite sex

Alcohol can increase YP’s feelings of sociability

Drinking alcohol as a means of celebrating and on special occasions may be positive for YP

Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Young People(Newbury-Birch et al., 2009)
current epidemiological evidence indicates newbury birch et al 2009
Current Epidemiological Evidence indicates… (Newbury-Birch et al., 2009)
  • Delaying the onset of regular drinking, by changing the attitudes of 11-15 year olds, and their parents, about alcohol.
  • Reducing the harm to young people who have already started to drink
  • Creating a culture in which YP feel they can have fun without needing to drink.

(inc. in England’s Alcohol HR Strategy, 2007)


The Shift to Spirits

Changes in types of alcohol consumed by risky drinkersaged 15 to 17 from 2001 to 2004 (data from 2000-2004 NAC)

Harm from Drinking Alcohol

  • Harm per volume for drinkers drinking less than three standard drinks per session
complex problems
Complex Problems

Child Awareness (child protection)

Domestic Violence

Sexual Assualt

the harm reduction continuum of acceptability
The Harm Reduction Continuum of Acceptability





opportunities for socio cultural change
Opportunities for Socio-Cultural Change
  • Workplace
  • Schools (school to work transition)
  • Parents
  • Sport
  • Provision of legitimate and valued non-drinking leisure options
  • Redefining the Australian national identity
1 workplace
1. Workplace

Changing workplace cultures

(Pidd and Roche, 2008)


1. Workers’ Alcohol use (2004 NDSHS)

% of drinkers aged 14 years and over, by employment status


Workers’ alcohol use by age

% drinking weekly (or more often) at risky & hi-risk levels

transition from school to work
Transition from School to Work
  • Some workplaces more conducive to the development of risky patterns of drinking than others e.g. hospitality industry
  • Workplace ‘culture’ a pivotal factor

Workers’ alcohol use by industry

% drinking weekly (or more often) at risky & hi-risk levels

2 schools
2. Schools

1. Connectedness

2. Social norming

3. Media analysis skill

4. Social skills development

5. Gender issues (incl. sexual ‘assault’)

social norms interventions to reduce alcohol misuse in university or college students
Social Norms Interventionsto reduce alcohol misuse in university or college students

New Cochrane Collaboration review

Moreira, Smith and Foxcroft. 2009 Cochrane review

sexualisation of young women girls
Sexualisation of Young Women/Girls

New Australian report of

High levels of sexual assault

experienced by young

females – attributed to

coercion and alcohol

3 parenting
3. Parenting
  • Empower
  • Support
  • Upskill
socio cultural drinking traditions and parenting
Socio-cultural drinking traditions and Parenting
  • Leisure realm = rich forum for enculturation
  • Normative behaviours around drinking are assumed & expressed

Clipsal 500, Feb ‘08

number of one parent families in australia data from abs 1997 2006 and 2007
Number of one-parent families in Australia (data from ABS, 1997, 2006 and 2007)

1 in 6 families in 2006 were single-parent families


1 in 17 in 1970’s

socio cultural drinking traditions and national identity
Socio-cultural drinking traditions and National Identity
  • A sense of national pride is expressed through drinking to excess

International Cricket, Feb ‘08

factors that predict risky drinking
Factors that predict risky drinking
  • Relationship with parents (positive=protective)
  • Parental modelling
  • Age first started drinking
  • NOT socioeconomic status
  • Amount of spending money
  • Religion (protective)
  • School connectedness - perceive teachers to be fair and care about them (protective)
wicked problems

Wicked Problems

"Wicked problem" is a phrase used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of



and changing requirements

that are often difficult to recognize.

Moreover, because of complex interdependencies,

the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem

may reveal or create other problems.


Strategies to tackle wicked problemsWicked problems cannot be tackled by the traditional approach in which problems are defined, analysed and solved in sequential steps. The main reason for this is that there is no clear problem definition of wicked problems. Strategies to cope with wicked problems:


These strategies seek to tame wicked problems by vesting the responsibility for solving the problems in the hands of a few people. The reduction in the number of stakeholders reduces problem complexity, as many competing points of view are eliminated at the start. The disadvantage is that authorities and experts charged with solving the problem may not have an appreciation of all the perspectives needed to tackle the problem.


These strategies attempt to solve wicked problems by pitting opposing points of view against each other, requiring parties that hold these views to come up with their preferred solutions. The advantage of this approach is that different solutions can be weighed up against each other and the best one chosen. The disadvantage of is that it creates a confrontational environment in which knowledge sharing is discouraged. Consequently, the parties involved may not have an incentive to come up with their best possible solution.


These strategies aim to engage all stakeholders in order to find the best possible solution for all stakeholders. Typically these approaches involve meetings in which issues and ideas are discusses and a common, agreed approach is formulated. In his 1972 paper, Rittel hints at a collaborative approach; one which attempts, "…to make those people who are being affected into participants of the planning process . They are not merely asked but actively involved in the planning process…" A disadvantage of this approach is that achieving a shared understanding and commitment to solving a wicked problem is a time-consuming process. Research over the last two decades has shown the value of computer assisted argumentation techniques in improving the effectiveness of cross-stakeholder communication. More recently, the technique of dialogue mapping has been used in tackling wicked problems in organizations using a collaborative approach.

No unique “correct” view of the problem;
  • Different views of the problem and contradictory solutions;
  • Most problems are connected to other problems;
  • Data are often uncertain or missing;
  • Multiple value conflicts;
  • Ideological and cultural constraints;
  • Political constraints;
  • Economic constraints;
  • Often a-logical or illogical or multi-valued thinking;
  • Numerous possible intervention points;
  • Consequences difficult to imagine;
  • Considerable uncertainty, ambiguity;
  • Great resistance to change; and,
  • Problem solver(s) out of contact with the problems and potential solutions.
super wicked problems
Super wicked problems

Some researchers make a distinction between wicked and super wicked problems. The latter have the following additional characteristics:

  • Time is running out.
  • No central authority.
  • Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.

The paradigmatic example of a super wicked problem is global climate change or the environment.

environment conservation analogy
Environment [conservation] Analogy
  • Outward looking
  • Conserves vs consumes
  • Collective vs individualistic
  • Rejuvenates vs exhausts
slow food movement
Slow Food Movement

The Slow Food movement was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy as a resistance movement to combat fast food. It claims to preserve the cultural cuisine and the associated food plants and seeds, domestic animals, and farming within an ecoregion. It was the first established part of the broader Slow movement.


Carlo Petrini was born in the commune Bra in the province of Cuneo in Italy.

slow food movement cont
Slow Food Movement (cont.)

Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.The movement has since expanded globally to over 85,000 members in 132 countries.


slow food
Slow Food

- good, clean and fair food

- counteracts fast food and fast life




Change means movement.

Movement means friction.

Only in the frictionless vacuum of a non-existent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.

(Saul Alinsky)

where to from here
Where to from here?
  • Japanese proverb

“Vision without action, is a day dream.

Action without vision, is a nightmare.”