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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drinking is a political act. Without alcohol and drinking globalization would be an entirely different thing

GLOBALIZATION, DIFFERENTIATION AND DRINKING CULTURES, AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
Anthropology of Food, issue 03, December 2004 Thomas WILSON
Appadurai provides a key to why more attention might and should be paid to drinking cultures in their national and global contexts. Drinking is an act of identification, differentiation and integration, and is a projection of homogeneity and heterogeneity in ethnicity and national identity. Drinking practices are agents in individual and group identifications, and drinking sites, the locales of regular and celebrated drinking, are places where meanings are made, shared, disputed and reproduced, where identities take shape, flourish and change. Drinking cultures are as poorly and permeably bounded as any other form of group culture; when drinking and the nation are investigated, there is a simultaneous examination of ethnic, national, class, gender, sexual, racial and other identities. An examination of drinking cultures must also be a focus on the social fields and political arenas which define and shape drinking places, spaces, and occasions...
Drinking politics
Drinking is a political act, whether it be in terms of the grander formal politics of government, party and policy, or in the interpersonal relations of power and authority. No matter how hard I tried to be an objective observer in those Irish pubs where I learned so much about Irish politics, my presence and participation were correctly perceived as political actions by my hosts and informants. Drinking was an important part of this politicization of me and my field research, due in no small part to the ever present politicization of drinking. The beer, wine or whiskey chosen was seen to be political. The pub was associated with one or the other political party, or was Protestant or Catholic. The people I met, and said hello to, and what I discussed with them, were all either political in nature or the politics were just beneath the surface. And in this politicization I mainly refer to the politics of the nation, the government, and political and civil society. Just imagine the research depths to be mined when one also adds to the mix the politics or gender, race and class.
It should come then as no surprise that drinking arenas are increasingly being seen as political arenas, worthy of more scholarly attention. Anthony Marcus (2005) recently examined how members of the working and underclasses are adapting to changes in civil and political society in the Unites States, on themargins of big-city and small-city life. In the situations in which he and his respondents found themselves, in public arenas of drinking and drug use, the political ideologies and social networks which these people created and sustained provided the basis for alternative politics to mainstream notions of democracy. These are not electoral politics or party politics, but they are examples of new constructions of political culture, linked to the divisive politics of power and representation in a country which seeks to export its democracy, as if that too was a global product with brand-recognition, ‘made in the USA’...
According to Jon Mitchell and Gary Armstrong (2005), cliques in urban Malta, born from long histories of colonial relations, express their localism and nationalism through feasts, reciprocal rounds of bar drinks and visits, and sporting celebrations. As Mitchell (2002) has discussed elsewhere, Malta also serves as one of the many places where European identity is a new and important form of cultural differentiation, and one that is sure to have many more comparators in the recently expanded European Union. As such Valletta, capital of Malta, is a global crossroads in the politics of the movement of ideas, people, values and goods,where tourists, European football teams and ethnographers intersect, crafting new dimensions to the ‘everyday’ and ‘extraordinary’ drinking arenas of Maltese life, where new and old expressions of identity mix.
This case study of Malta illustrates many of the themes which drive the new anthropology of drink, culture and power. Among these themes are the politics of class and national identity, the distinctions represented in beer and wine drinking,the formal and informal economic relations which depend on alcohol and drinkingbehaviors, the local and global intersections which give definition to so many social and political identities, and the forces for change in all the drinking arenaswhich have proved so important to our local and global memories.
Drinking is a social, economic, political and cultural act. For a great many people across the globe it involves as much time, effort, and thought as does prayer, church-going, electioneering, work and for some even sleep. Without alcohol and drinking globalization would be an entirely different thing, as would many other processes14 of social differentiation and cultural identification. While many anthropologists and other ethnographers have realized these facts, there is still so much more to learn and investigate. Thomas WILSON, Binghamton University State, University of New York BIBLIOGRAPHY APPADURAI Arjun, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

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