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Journal Article

The Uses of Alcohol and Their Cultural Regulation

Klaus Mäkelä
Acta Sociologica
Vol. 26, No. 1 (1983), pp. 21-31
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http:/stable/4194455
Page Count: 11
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The Uses of Alcohol and Their Cultural Regulation
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Abstract

Alcoholic beverages have multiple objective uses that can be analyzed to some degree independently of prevailing cultural attitudes. Three main uses which are directly based on the physical properties of beverage alcohol as a substance are identified: nutritional use, medicinal use and use as an intoxicant. The following physical properties of beverage alcohol are singled out for discussion: medicinal effects, caloric content, liquid state, taste and intoxicating effects. The use of alcohol as a gift and for sacral purposes are examples of the derived uses that are based on its cultural meanings rather than on its physical properties. In consuming alcohol, its nutritional, medicinal and intoxicating effects are always simultaneously present. Thus the different uses interact on the level of drinking behavior without distinct boundaries. The historically dominant use is of prime importance, however, from the perspective of the dynamics of cultural regulation. Restraining the side effects of nutritives is different from domesticating an intoxicant. Cultures in which nutritional use is of little historical importance are faced with the latter task. In a critique of Pittman's typology, it is argued that Italy and France, on the one hand, and the Jews, Scandinavians and Camba, on the other, are variations of two basic types with regard to alcohol. In Italy and France, the nutritional use of alcohol is historically dominant, but the French have developed more tolerant attitudes towards the intoxicating side effects of wine. Among the Jews, the Scandinavians and the Camba alike, alcohol is an intoxicant, but these three cultures have developed alternative normative solutions for the regulation of its use.

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