november 2011

The practise and practice of Bourdieu: the application of social theory to youth alcohol research

BACKGROUND: Some years ago Australian anthropologist David Moore criticised the predominant form of understanding youth alcohol consumption for residing with biomedical approaches that individualise and ultimately stigmatise drinking behaviour and 'ignore' the social context of consumption. Of interest here is the ongoing insufficient integration of alternative approaches to understanding young people's drinking.

METHODS: This paper presents theoretically informed qualitative research that investigates why young Australian females (aged 14-17) drink and how social and cultural context form the basis, rather than the periphery, of their drinking experience.

RESULTS: We demonstrate the utility of Pierre Bourdieu's sociological framework for delving beyond the dichotomy of young people's drinking decisions as either a determination of their cultural environment or the singular result of a rational individual's independent decision-making. The paper is presented in two parts. First, we provide the interpretation, or 'practise', of Bourdieu's concepts through an outline and application of his complex theoretical constructs. Specifically, the concept of symbolic capital (or social power) is applied. Second, our explication of Bourdieu's 'practice', or epistemological contributions, offers a methodologically grounded example to other researchers seeking to attain more complete understandings of the social processes underpinning youth alcohol consumption.

CONCLUSION: A sociological approach to exploring the complex relationship between drinking and contextual social factors amongst young Australian females is an unchartered area of enquiry. We contribute new theoretically supported insights to create a more complete picture of young females' drinking behaviours.

Additional Info

  • Authors

    Lunnay B.; Ward P.; Borlagdan J.
  • Issue

    Int.J.Drug Policy / pages 428-436 / volume 22
  • Published Date

    november 2011