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Elliott, B. (1992). Constructive Drinking: Perspectives on Drink from Anthropology, edited by Mary Douglas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, £30. Free Associations, 3(1):143-146.

(1992). Free Associations, 3(1):143-146

Constructive Drinking: Perspectives on Drink from Anthropology, edited by Mary Douglas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, £30

Review by:
Barbara Elliott

This collection of papers documents a vast range of drinking behaviour: from drinking palm wine among the Lele villagers in Zaire to drinking tea among the elderly in the East End of London: from beer drinking among the Mambu tribe in Nigeria to the consumption of wines, liqueurs and coffees by fictional characters in Georges Simenon's ‘Maigret’ novels.

The book is neatly divided into three sections. The first, Drinks Construct The World As It Is, contains papers which document the processes whereby the kind of drink, the level of consumption and the pattern of the accompanying drinking rituals combine to form and refine the social networks which operate within any given culture. Precise rules about behaviour and interaction are established and clarified as part of the drinking setting.

Among the longshoremen in Newfoundland, for example, two different styles of drinking have evolved which help to differentiate the membership of particular work groups. Those men who have regular and steady work drink beer together in small intimate groups in taverns near the docks. Those whose labour is needed on a temporary, day-to-day basis do not mix with the ‘regulars’ but tend to sit in parked cars or out of doors drinking wine or rum, where it is common practice to drink from the same bottle. Both groups conform to particular norms which are part of an intricate structure of winks, nods, the buying of rounds, etc., and seem to emphasize differences in social, work and family life.

In a small rural community in eastern Austria, the consumption of Sekt is associated with formal, traditional, fixed holidays marked by the calendar, whereas schnapps is consumed at gatherings marked by spontancity, co-operation and intimacy.

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