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The ‘social worlds’ concept: a useful tool for public health-oriented studies of drinking cultures

journal contribution
posted on 10.11.2020, 00:40 authored by Sarah MacLeanSarah MacLean, Robyn DwyerRobyn Dwyer, Amy PennayAmy Pennay, M Savic, Claire WilkinsonClaire Wilkinson, S Roberts, K Turner, E Saleeba, Robin RoomRobin Room
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Intervening in heavy drinking cultures within groups below the level of the population has been under-utilized as a means of reducing alcohol-associated harms. We argue that the concept of ‘social worlds’ is useful for the identification and investigation of heavy drinking cultures in collectivities at this level. The concept may also support investigations into other practices with health implications, such as other substance use or gambling. Social worlds are understood to be loosely bounded groups that change over time and any individual may be affiliated with many. Membership of a social world entails shared commitments, practices and norms generated and reiterated through interaction with other members, albeit not necessarily with all members participating together or at once. Social worlds of heavy alcohol consumption are also framed by the settings where people drink, products consumed and technologies used in doing so. As a tool to support public health efforts, we suggest that these social worlds should entail collective drinking, include sufficient members and involve a magnitude of harm to warrant public health investment and be accessible for research and intervention. Researchers can usefully consider how wider forces, including discourses about alcohol and the gendering of drinking practices, are enacted within particular social worlds. Although they may be explored through empirical research, social worlds of heavy drinking are analytic devices rather than perfect reflections of an objective reality. To see them as such allows us to define them strategically, looking for opportunities to modify cultures associated with harms.


A.P. is supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award [DE190101074]. The Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) receives core funding from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education. The work of CAPR staff on this paper was supported by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth).


Publication Date



Addiction Research and Theory








Taylor and Francis



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