3 Mar 2023

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Gender, social class and contemporary (non)drinking practices in Australia seminar

Gender, social class and contemporary (non)drinking practices in Australia 

Tuesday 28th March 7-8pm Eastern Australian Time / 9-10am British Summer Time  (online)

The Sobriety, Abstinence and Moderation Cluster and Women and Alcohol Cluster invite you to join us for an online seminar exploring themes of gender, social class and contemporary (non)drinking practices with a particular focus on the Australian context:





Amy Pennay (Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, La Trobe University Australia)

A cross-national qualitative analysis of gender amidst declining youth drinking

Significant declines in drinking among young people have been recorded in many high-income countries over the past 20 years. This analysis aimed to provide insight into whether and how gender might be implicated in declining youth drinking, with a focus on women’s data. Interview data from four independent qualitative studies from Australia, Denmark, Sweden and the UK were analysed. We found that women and states of intoxication were pejoratively described in gendered terms (e.g., bitchy, hysterical). Non- and light-drinking on the other hand offered opportunities for expressing alternate and desirable configurations of femininities. Our findings offer insight into how young people’s enactions of gender are embedded in, and evolve alongside, these large declines in youth drinking.


Belinda Lunnay (Research Centre for Public Health Equity and Human Flourishing, Torrens University Australia)

“Glorified cordial”: How social class distinctions are re-made through women’s perspectives on no and low alcohol product consumption

Women’s alcohol consumption during midlife (aged 45-64) is continually increasing and poses threats to disease prevention. Public health approaches designed to curb consumption are not taking effect. We looked to innovate responses by observing the momentum of the ‘sober curious’ wellness movement among younger populations and we wondered what factors impact women’s preparedness to reduce alcohol and can the sober curious movement be leveraged to support women with making alcohol reductions? Globally, ‘sober curious’ movements are rapidly gaining popularity. They promote sustained reduced drinking lifestyles as socially desirable. An important scaffolding to the movement is a rapidly growing range of no- or low-alcohol (NoLo) products now available in bars, bottle shops and supermarkets. Our research explored women’s perceptions about consuming NoLos in accordance with their different life chances and reasons for drinking. I will share data collected through 27 open-ended interviews with ‘sober-curious’ Australian women (45-64 years) from different social class positions (working vs middle/affluent) in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. Applying Bourdieu’s relational model of social class, we found NoLos provide middle/affluent women with an alcohol alternative that supports reductions. These women described drinking as a celebration and to achieve social connections, and how in these contexts, NoLos have social value. They represent ‘wellness’ and are a positive and desirable ‘good’, albeit without psychoactive effects. NoLos are also highly commodified products that we found operate as symbolic capital, conferring status and privilege upon middle/affluent class women who have the cultural ‘know how’ to select particular brands, to purchase and to drink them. On the other hand, working class women, who drink to cope with difficult lives and to relieve boredom, stress or loneliness, questioned the advantages of drinking NoLos - “I would just drink water” (one working class woman said) rather than “glorified cordial” (one affluent class woman’s description of NoLos). We found NoLos are unaffordable, and not worthwhile for this group – they are no help with feelings of coping, nor are there gains to be made in terms of recognition of cultural capital and social class mobility. For this group alternative features of the sober curious movement need to be explored for leverage potential in supporting women to reduce alcohol. I will discuss options.

Kristen Foley (Torrens University Australia)

Social class and the actualities of self-making via alcohol consumption, stockpiling, happiness and wellness during the 2020 crisis lockdowns for Australian women in midlife

COVID-19 lockdowns to mitigate viral spread during 2020 confined people to their homes for reasons except ‘essential services’ – which in Australia included to purchase alcohol. Before the pandemic, we interviewed 50 women 2017-2019 about alcohol consumption, and 40 agreed to reinterview during 2020 lockdowns (n=90 interviews). Women were aged 45-64 and represented different social class positions informed by Bourdieusian logic. Data analysis used pre-coding, conceptual/thematic categorisation, and theoretical interpretation. This presentation collates our published work by theme – alcohol consumption and reduction, stockpiling, happiness and wellness – in relation to social class and the actualities for consuming alcohol as part of ‘self-making’. During the pandemic, women in middle class positions worked dutifully to pursue happiness and stay well, stockpiling the most alcohol of women in all classes. Women in working class positions described that drinking provided emotional relief in lieu of happiness and was one of few ‘tools’ that kept them ‘well’, although limited economic capital precluded stockpiling. Women in affluent class positions had well-stocked cellars before the pandemic emerged, so needed to stockpile less, but their narratives indicated they could access alternatives to alcohol consumption to pursue wellness and happiness. Relationships to alcohol therefore took form according to cultural and neoliberal imperatives to ‘make selves’ that are well and happy despite pandemic uncertainty; yet the opportunities to do so segmented commensurate to the capital available to women. Approaches that seek to support women with alcohol reduction must consider these important social class-based differences in women’s self-making and the alternatives to alcohol women can access.


Discussant: Filip Djordjevic (La Trobe University Australia)


Please contact emily.nicholls@york.ac.uk if you have any queries or require the Zoom link.