Regulating the carnivalesque: rationality, responsibility and distinction in the Coalition Government’s alcohol policy

Authors: Haydock, W.

Conference: Under Control:Alcohol and drug regulation past and present

Dates: 21-23 June 2013


As under the preceding Labour administration, the Coalition Government has identified particular forms of alcohol consumption as problematic. By contrast, the majority of people in the UK are understood to consume alcohol in a ‘responsible’ way, leading to positive impacts on wellbeing and sociability as well as providing valuable employment for those in the alcohol industry – which ‘enhances the UK economy’ (HM Government 2012: 3).

This paper seeks to unpack this concept of ‘responsible’ drinking, contrasting it with the carnivalesque approach to drinking that can be identified amongst many drinkers in the UK (e.g. Hackley et al. Forthcoming; Haydock 2010). It is argued that the way in which ‘binge’ drinking is defined suggests a particular cultural outlook that values some ways of enjoying oneself as more intrinsically valuable than others (cf. Measham and Moore 2008). This outlook can be understood in terms of Bourdieu’s (1984) work on distinction through taste. It is argued that this approach to alcohol affects how the Government’s alcohol policy is framed to target particular forms of drinks and drinking. Discourses of responsibility as linked with complexity and distinction have also been taken on board by the alcohol industry to be used as defences against potential regulation (BBC 2009; Graff 2012; Pernod Ricard 2009).

It is argued that this emphasis on the cultural and moral discourses surrounding drinking, as well as constituting a form of symbolic violence, may dilute rather than enforce messages concerned with crime and health harms relating to alcohol consumption.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: William Haydock