A geographical contribution to alcohol policy and practice
Alcohol, drinking and drunkenness have been themes of popular concern, and policy intervention, since the late eighteenth century. Research undertaken at The University of Manchester in conjunction with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – and overseen by an advisory group containing representatives from UK Government, national and local charities, Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and local authorities – has contributed to the first sustained geographical contribution to these debates.
It has also fed into national policy and ongoing programmes including the 2008 UK Government ‘Youth Alcohol Action Plan’, and the 2012 House of Commons Health Committee inquiry on the Government’s ‘Alcohol strategy’.
This work addresses the spaces and places of alcohol consumption (home, city, countryside, the pub etc) and the ways that drinking cultures are embedded within families, and transmitted across generations. Evidence presented in two Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reports – 'Family Life and Alcohol Consumption' (2010) and 'Drinking Places' (2007) – has challenged the undue stigmatisation of specific groups of alcohol consumers, and has been used by a range of public and private bodies. These include: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Royal Geographical Society, Alcohol Concern, Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs and Drinkaware Trust.
Key examples of engagement and impact include:
- Findings from ‘Drinking Places’ feeding directly into ongoing JRF alcohol programmes, with the foregrounding of geographical approaches having a ‘significant impact’ on ensuing funding decisions. Concurrently, these findings were also cited in the Government’s cross-departmental 'Youth Alcohol Action Plan' (2008).
- The JRF alcohol programme instrumental in the Welsh Government funding a randomised controlled trial within their Strengthening Families programme. Similar engagement in Scotland leveraged addition funds for JRF to test out approaches to challenging negative drinking cultures in deprived communities.
- Findings from 'Family Life and Alcohol Consumption' influencing initiatives and programmes delivered by the Drinkaware Trust, the alcohol education charity. In particular, findings around the role of parents in shaping and influencing children’s attitudes and behaviours to alcohol informed Drinkaware’s strategic decision to target parents directly, via the ‘Your Kids and Alcohol’ and In:tuition campaigns. A resultant video has been viewed upwards of 800,000 times, with over 100,000 copies of the parents leaflet distributed via Drinkaware.
- Both policy and research findings fed into the 2012 'House of Commons Health Committee' report on the 'Government’s Alcohol Strategy'. For example, the report notes that "the conclusion is that a whole range of factors, including cultural norms and peer pressure, are what are important in determining what, and how much, people drink".
This research is an ongoing collaboration between Dr Jayne and colleagues at the University of Sheffield and Loughborough University. It utilised a novel spatial and mixed method perspective – the spatialities of collective responsibility – to understand the connections, similarities, differences and mobilities between drinking practices at different spatial scales (national, regional, urban, rural, domestic, commercial and ‘the body’). The research established that:
- There is an ontological and epistemological impasse in alcohol research that must be addressed. The research highlights the need for ongoing dialogue between social, health and medical scientists, in order that more pertinent and appropriate ways of understanding and representing the pleasures and dangers of alcohol consumption may be developed
- A geographical approach can make a significant contribution to policy and practice, with previous studies tending to consider the locations of case studies as 'passive backdrops', rather than active agents that effect drinking practices
- An over-emphasis on binge-drinking young people is misplaced, as other spaces, places and problematic drinking practices are subsequently ignored
- The transmission of intergenerational drinking cultures within families is underpinned by spatialities of collective practice. Accordingly, a focus on individual choice fails to educate children about the impact drinking and drunken behaviour has on others, domestically and in public, ignoring children’s future social responsibilities as adult consumers
- Dr Mark Jayne
- Professor Gill Valentine (University of Sheffield)
- Professor Sarah Holloway (Loughborough University)