THE CULTURE OF ALCOHOL IN RELATION TO SECONDARY AGED PUPILS: a feasibility study
Report submitted to funders in 1989, John Schostak, Richard Davies
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Analytic Profile 3. Chris
Chris works. He works it would seem a good deal and earns, for a 14 year old boy a sizeable sum. He works throughout his holidays and earns approximately ten pounds a day. The world of work is a powerful orientation for Chris. This places him, unlike Laura, into a context of discipline and responsibility for his own money. Chris is unlikely to raid a drinks cupboard for something to do in the holidays - he is too busy, and he is unlikely to spend much money on alcohol; he knows what his money is worth having earned it. Or money is important to him given the commitment he makes to earning and he may be reluctant to spend it upon such costly unremunerating consumer items as alcoholic drink. When he goes to the amusement arcades he does not spend much money. He does not gamble; he does not use the fruit machines. He doesn't like the "dingy" or "smoky" arcades. He went to one such on a single occasion and never returned. He identifies such places with smoking and hanging around with gangs. He does not approve of such behaviours and is not attracted to them. He gets on well with his family which includes stays with two elderly aunts. His parents appear tolerant, flexible but involved. His mother regularly drives Chris and his friends to the local community centre and they require information from Chris as to his whereabouts and schedule if he goes out in the evening. He is clearly at home in his community, using its resources; the school in the evening to race his remote control beetle car, the youth and community centre once a week; visits to the city at weekends to wander about and look at the shops. His orientations are towards what one may call a conventional life in the terms of the community in which he lives. Although Chris constructs boundaries excluding certain forms of behaviours and certain environment (which could be identified as dingy, threatening, smoky, 'not worth it'/involves expenditure) which make him apparently less vulnerable to abuse of alcohol' he is prepared to experiment. Indeed he presents it as a requirement "if there's something, you have to try it, to find out what it's like". The question that may be asked of Chris is what does one not try? What are the limits on experiment? Indeed should one try, for example, a behaviour or a substance as addictive as tobacco? One moves from the point at which Chris may say he draws the line in experimentation to more general issues.
For example, if 'you have to try' something, i.e. learn by experiment / make one's own judgement on the basis of experience, what is the role of the law? What is the relationship of society to the individual in relation to the demands of personal experience? Should it be very much harder for under 16 year olds to obtain tobacco, something for which the Parents Against Tobacco group is campaigning? This can feed into discussion of the role of alcohol in public and private life; licensing laws and the pub; age limits and the supermarket; recent local authority bye laws in some cities banning drinking in non-licensed public spaces. Perhaps members of the group (pupil and teacher alike) may have had experience of legal intervention in the private sphere of consumer choice; direct experience of the state assumption that there are certain matters of a personal order for which individuals are not allowed to have responsibility (such as going to school/ getting educated between ages 5 and 16).
The questions being developed here may not, of course, be intelligible in their present form to a class of third year pupils. It is the role of the teacher, knowing his or her class, to shape questions interactively with pupils in accordance with their perceived interests and abilities and the pupils' own developing agendas. This interactive shaping of questions and agendas would best be achieved through processes of action research as we have argued elsewhere.
2. transitional event(s)
For Chris, the experience of transition is strongly related to experimentation. That he is prepared to experiment is evidenced by his exploratory visit to an amusement arcade of doubtful reputation, and to try out different even dangerous environments. He is quite clear about what he is not interested in. Alcohol for example constitutes a boundary that is distinctive and not worth crossing. The decision has already been made by Chris even though, as he says, he knows others of his contemporaries who do drink. He has crossed and recrossed boundaries. There is evidence that he is able to suspend his experimentations at any moment. Unlike Laura he is able to prevent himself from getting locked into undesirable patterns of action.
He has been involved with 'a little gang' which featured smoking and attendance on the peripheries of a gang of older teenagers who also smoked and rode motorbikes. This was not the world of the old peoples' home, of steady work and a tidy income, of model car racing and the community centre, of thrift, self-control and a comfortable relationship with the family. He is experimenting with a distinctively 'other' world. However he retains his detachment. How does Chris do this? How does he sustain his air of critical detachment? Is it because he remains hard to impress? He does not seem concerned about status. He does not believe for example that smoking or not smoking involves issues of looking 'hard' or 'grown up'. It was simply an act of consumption that an individual may or may not choose to commit. There's nothing, he seems to suggest, impressive about smoking.
In the context of decision making (or when Chris finds himself encountering alcohol or alcohol cultures, albeit he finds the tatse of alcohol 'vile') this detachment is important. He does not lose his capacity to make decisions nor his own, apparently independent judgements derived from experiment. For example he describes the spread of smoking amongst his peers as a little disease. This does not constitute the glamorized view of behaviours usually associated with signs of adultness of "being big", of looking 'grown up', that one may commonly find amongst other fourteen year olds. In a sense, although he has one, perhaps more, important friendships, Chris does not seem to experience peer group pressure as a conforming influence. There is insufficient data to go further on this theme but already there are emergent issues related to friendship, peer group cultures, conformity and non conformity. To what values does Chris conform? The group may discuss the importance of 'being popular', or the price that is paid for "being unpopular". What will one not do in order to remain in the 'right' crowd? Where is an individual morally obliged to draw the line? Certainly, in relation to alcohol, a great many behaviours are about commitment to a group, to a collective identity, such as football hooliganism, or the group kicking of a waiter to death in a Spanish holiday resort following a day's heavy drinking.
3. Career objects/aims/values
Chris had, for example, a brief gang 'career'. But as we discuss above this conflicted with the major career of his relationship to his family, his jobs, his notion of what is or is not 'worth' doing. He is inclined towards singular relationships rather than group ones, i.e his friend Alex. His social career is predicated upon 'close' relationships rather than collective activities. He has a strong sense of the value of money and consequently he is concerned to obtain value for money. He makes a great many important decisions on the basis of "worth it or not worth it" criteria in which the expenditure of money is a key factor. Smoking costs money so it's not 'worth it'; gambling machines cost money with doubtful or zero returns, so he only plays on the games machines; he complains of the financial cost of a range of activities with the implication that because of this he does not do them, despite the fact that he earns reasonably good sums of money for a 14 year old (particularly in the holidays). But there is another dimension to the 'worth it/ not worth it' polarities, but we have insufficient data to do more than point it out. Chris decided to stop hanging around with the gang whom he described as "these people" because, he said, "it's not worth it". What does he mean by 'worth' in this context? How are such decisions of value arrived at when they are not linked to the relatively simple measure of financial cost?
It would seem that all the possible careers which he has explored are subsumed under, or organised according to the rules of: a) experimentation, b) value (being or not being 'worth it').