Leisure zones and the intoxication context

An insight of the sociology of consumer society from Veblen onwards is the way modern societies turn free time into a zone of performance, status and economic activity. Digital platforms put rockets on that. Our eyeballs become commodities. That might be part of the explanation for the current political polarisation and tendency to flay moral transgressors alive. Destroying people for a misplaced tweet is not incidental to our core status activity. For those who see status as coming from demonstrating their virtue online, it is a key activity. We should stop treating these processes as a secondary issue to the real deal of economic production. Public shaming is as much a part of politics as who gets what.

The economic context is central to this. There was since the 1980s a coherent effort to shift the UK economy to one focused around leisure consumption. That involved the development of large scale integrated leisure companies. Established breweries and their tied pubs were bought out and refashioned. New alcohol products were launched, focused on the female market and on at-home consumption. Something similar happened to football. Football clubs became the entertainment centrepiece for new television channels which increasingly treated the match and the players as a product to be sold and re-sold – sometimes to those same pubcos that were reshaping drinking time. Intoxication changes as a result. It is pulled  out of a localised, tangible context where norms help regulate both consumption levels and behaviour.

There is a symbiosis between the development of integrated alcohol corporations which have reworked traditional pub culture into high consumption leisure spaces, involving high levels of at-home alcohol consumption; and the same process in football which has commodified it and also changed the context of supporter cultures, making it more of a leisure industry. Despite that, localised working class cultures still matter to the game, just as traditional pub culture persists and has echoes in contemporary British alcohol culture.  There is also another tradition, of self developed autonomous intoxication cultures, around the 1980s rave scene, and later autonomous festivals and psychedelic contexts. Currently the same risk is apparent as psychedelics approach something like mainstream recognition and attract the interest of venture capital. We may see another round of commodification and its logics: standardisation and regulation, in which localised tangible cultures are turned into abstracted products.

Author: Angus Bancroft

I'm a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh department of Sociology, studying illicit drug use, illicit markets and various shades of cyber crime. Email angus.bancroft@ed.ac.uk Tweet @angusbancroft

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