There is evidence that alcohol consumption among those in middle-class occupations consistently exceeds safe levels, yet there has been little research into why this occurs. This article explores the meanings associated with alcohol use among professional, managerial and clerical workers. Qualitative data were collected from five focus groups of male and female employees aged 21-55 (N =49: 32 male, 17 female). Each focus group was conducted on the premises of a medium-scale or large-scale employer, four public sector and one private sector, in the north-east of England. Using Bourdieu's concepts of 'habitus', 'capitals' and 'fields' we found that, among these middle-class occupational groups, alcohol use was associated with two habitus: a 'home drinking' habitus and a 'traditional drinking' habitus. Those of the home drinking habitus particularly used wine as a source of cultural capital and a means of distinction, whereas those in the traditional habitus consumed lager, beer and spirits to have fun in social settings. A small minority appeared to belong to a third, omnivorous, habitus where a wide range of alcoholic drinks were consumed in a variety of contexts. Existing public health initiatives to reduce alcohol consumption may require modification to accommodate a range of drinking cultures.
Keywords: Bourdieu; alcohol; distinction; habitus; middle-class.
© 2014 The Authors. Sociology of Health & Illness © 2014 Foundation for the Sociology of Health & Illness/John Wiley & Sons Ltd.