Freedom in a bottle : Young Swedes on rationales and norms for drunken behaviour

Sammanfattning: There is today much evidence for a positive relationship between alcohol and violence. There are however still many questions about the nature of the relationship. Somewhat simplified, the research on the link between alcohol and violence can be divided into four different lines of research, research focusing on: the effect of alcohol as a psychoactive substance, the drinking context, the personality of the drinker, and societal attitudes, expectations and values. The dissertation focuses on the last area, the importance of the cultural context. One influential theory within this field is the time-out theory formulated by MacAndrew and Edgerton in the late 1960s. Since drunken comportment varied between cultures and between different contexts within the same culture and changed over time, they suggested that the effects of alcohol on people’s behaviour was socially constructed. They suggest that many societies had a created a time-out situation for drunken behaviour that explained people’s behaviour while drunk.The general aim for this dissertation is to study young Swedes’ attitudes, experiences and expectations around drunken behaviour, with a special focus on expectancies around alcohol as a cause and excuse for violence. Three different data sets have been used. The first study is based on 4 focus-group interviews with Swedish football fans during the European football championship in Holland in 2000. The second material is eight focus-group interviews involving 47 students aged 18-20 living in Stockholm. The last material is a nationally representative survey of young adults, 16-25 years old. One part of the survey consisted of 4 vignettes which we used to elicit cultural norms around drunken behaviour.The findings suggest that young Swedes believe that alcohol can be used as a means to accomplish a pleasurable state of mind, and that alcohol could be used as a means to transgression – since alcohol reduce inhibitions it could be used to put them in a less controlled mode. The rationale for those changes was often described in terms of the psychoactive effect of alcohol. However, it was also shown that the context was important. When the situation demanded alcohol the most, their expectations together with the situation almost turned water into beer. It was also shown that there was a norm which said that one should not use alcohol as an excuse, but on the other hand, the participants said that they used alcohol as an excuse and that they thought that it was accepted. Alcohol could work as an excuse since alcohol made the aggressor look less deviant and the acts less severe. The vignette studies indicated that an aggressor who was drunk when he committed a violent act was seen as less blameworthy than a sober or less drunk aggressor. However, this applied only under certain circumstances: alcohol seemed to be a better excuse if the victim is drunk as well and the act is relatively severe.Taken together, the studies suggest that the Swedish drinking culture provides people with a drunken excuse, which helps young people to expand the room for possible action.