“Alcohol flows across cultures: Drinking cultures in transnational and comparative perspective”
International Research Symposium, St Anne’s College, Oxford, 29–30 June 2016
"Binge Sobriety in Cross-Cultural and Historical Perspective"
Dr Julie Robert
School of International Studies, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
Temporary Sobriety Initiatives (TSI) such as Dry July and FebFast (Australia), Dry January (UK) and Les 28 jours les plus difficiles de ta vie (Canada) have emerged in the past decade as popular philanthropic undertakings that call on participants to abstain from drinking for a month. Although potentially traceable to rituals of abstention such as Lenten fasting and wartime conservation efforts (Finland), these modern campaigns and their participants speak of them as novel undertakings that resonate with a current cultural moment, its social preoccupations and personal concerns rather than as reinventions or continuations of traditions.
This cultural history of contemporary TSI uses both publically available materials generated by the campaigns (official websites, social media presence, press coverage, annual reports) and in-depth participant interviews from Australian initiatives to explore the links, unmade connections, and ruptures between the modern campaigns and their antecedents. It seeks to understand both the commonalities between these precursors and their modern iterations and how and why the contemporary experiments in binge sobriety differentiate and even distance themselves from those of the past. Of key importance are the ways in which – across the specific national contexts of the current campaigns – neoliberal concerns about personal health and fitness, crises arising from ‘problematic’ national drinking cultures, as well as the wider notions and appeals of embodied philanthropy are mobilized to incite participation and there is a simultaneous rejection of wowserism, moralism and teetotalling.
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