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Young people's cultural discourses on alcohol: A Q methodological enquiry

Brandling, Janet Lesley


Janet Lesley Brandling


Widespread alcohol use by young people in the UK is characterised problematically. Alcohol research has concentrated in three domains, the intra-personal, the inter-personal and the cultural, concentrating upon consumption frequency and quantity as well as resultant risks and harm. A constructionist epistemology and mixed qualitative methods are used to identify discourses surrounding influence on young people’s choice to use alcohol or not. Focus and advisory groups and Q method are used with 15-18 year olds.

In focus groups young people continue to use well-understood discourses surrounding alcohol of pleasure and risk. Discourses are dynamic and responsive to context. Deductive analysis provides evidence that individualism and consumerism contribute an epistemological framework and this conflicts with ideas of influence. Q methodology revealed seven discourses after drinkers were separated from non-drinkers during analysis. The primary ‘drinkers’ factor is the cultural mainstream, with fun and social drinking, followed by additional factors of cultural discordance, being able to ‘take it or leave it’, cultural indulgence which might be characterised as ‘binge drinking’ and a cultural tightrope, where there is paradoxical control and intoxication. The primary ‘non-drinking’ factor is of cultural resistance with ‘proscription and abstention’, followed by cultural nonchalance, where drinking is viewed positively and abstinence is temporary and finally cultural rationality, where alcohol is refused for practical and rational reasons. The data sets provide insight into discourses of ambivalence and avoidance, indicating although many young people drink frequently and riskily they do not all conform to prevailing views of drinking.

Based on the literature review and data analysis a map has been constructed to illustrate the domains of influence, which affect young people. These results have implications for public health and policy makers. Young people do not easily relate to the influence of their peers, families or wider cultural structures. Nor is drinking based on rational decision making. Although they acknowledge risk, they distance themselves from problematic drinking.


Brandling, J. L. Young people's cultural discourses on alcohol: A Q methodological enquiry. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords young people, adolescents, alcohol, peer influence, Q methodology, qualitative research
Public URL
Award Date May 27, 2014

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