Becoming a 'real' smoker: cultural capital in young women's accounts of smoking and other substance use

Sociol Health Illn. 2009 Jan;31(1):66-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2008.01119.x. Epub 2008 Aug 28.


This paper draws from a qualitative study of tobacco use by young women in Toronto, Canada. Narrative interviews were used to understand the multiple roles and functions of smoking within the everyday lives of female adolescents. Guided by a Bourdieusian theoretical framework this study employed the core construct of cultural capital in order to position tobacco and other substance use as field-specific capital that young women accumulate while navigating the social worlds of adolescence. Departing from the psychosocial or peer-influence models that inform the majority of tobacco research with young people, this analysis provides a nuanced understanding of how smoking, drinking, using drugs are much more than simple forms of teenage experimentation or rebellion, but can also serve as key resources for defining the self, acquiring status and making social distinctions within adolescent social worlds. In this context it is also argued that initiation into substance use practices is a way that young women demonstrate and develop social and cultural competencies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Ontario
  • Power, Psychological
  • Self Concept
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Identification*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder
  • Young Adult