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‘Social health’, ‘physical health’, and well-being: analysing with bourdieusian concepts the interplay between the practices of heavy drinking and exercise among young people

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journal contribution
posted on 26.07.2021, 01:44 by J Törrönen, E Samuelsson, F Roumeliotis, Robin RoomRobin Room, L Kraus
Background: The article examines the interplay between the practices of heavy drinking and exercise among young people. The comparison helps to clarify why young people are currently drinking less than earlier and how the health-related discourses and activities are modifying young people's heavy drinking practices. Methods: The data is based on interviews (n = 56) in Sweden among 15–17-year-olds and 18–19-year-olds. By drawing on Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of habitus, field, and capital, we examine what kinds of resources young people accumulate in the fields of heavy drinking and exercise, how these resources carry symbolic value for distinction, and what kind of health-related habitus they imply. Results: The analysis shows that young people's practices in the social spaces of intoxication and exercise are patterned around the ‘social health’ and ‘physical health’ approaches and shaped by gendered binaries of masculine dominance. The ‘physical health’ approach values capable, high-performative, and attractive bodies, whereas the ‘social health’ approach is oriented towards accumulating social capital. The analysis demonstrates that these approaches affect the interviewees’ everyday life practices so that the ‘physical health’ approach has more power over the ‘social health’ approach in transforming them. Conclusion: As the ‘physical health’ approach appears to modify young people's practices of drinking to be less oriented to intoxication or away from drinking, this may partly explain why young people are drinking less today than earlier. Compared to drinking, the physical health-related social spaces also seem to provide more powerful arenas within which to bolster one's masculine and feminine habitus. This further suggests that intoxication may have lost its symbolic power among young people as a cool activity signalling autonomy, maturity, and transgression of norms.


This work was supported by Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare, under Grant no. 2016-00313.


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International Journal of Drug Policy



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