Globalization, bars & alcohol

Petr V. Ivanov May 28, 2020

Globalization, bars & alcohol

In the 21st century, there is nothing surprising about Irish pubs in Tokyo or Yenisei cognac in Osh.

We live in a world against which anti-globalist demonstrations have recently taken place. However, globalization has not led to the macdonaldization that sociologist George Ritzer has frightened us with. The different cultures of the time and place of drunkenness remain, though they acquire a new form.

Globalization at the turn of the XX and XXI century worried not only the anti-globalists and George Ritzer. This period was a new golden age for anthropologists, because once again the focus was on cultural differences. This time, in the context of the threat of extinction of these differences.

Geoffrey Hunt and Judith Barker in their 2001 article faced the question head-on - it is enough for anthropologists to reproduce the reductionist attitude to alcohol and drugs that is enshrined in industrial law. Alcohol and drug practices have dimensions other than pharmacological, physiological and psychiatric. This frame was invented by Western society in the 20th century, and if we don't go beyond, we, the Western society, will completely unlearn to understand ourselves.

We cannot say that this research manifesto has become a turning point in the anthropology of alcohol, but it has made some contribution to the fact that the conversation about alcohol consumption has become more legitimized. What made anthropologists, in the context of globalization, go to study how Irishmen drink Guinness, how much wine it takes to be a true Basque and what role pubs and bars play in shaping the political consciousness of nations and peoples.

Irishman Thomas Wilson was very surprised when he came from New York to his friends in Cannes, they dragged him not to a French restaurant to drink wine, but to an Irish pub to drink Guinness. But as an anthropologist, he knew it made sense. On the one hand, national cultures of practice and drinking places create important differences on which to build an identity. Yeah, we're Irish, we drink this whiskey and this beer in these pubs. On the other hand, these differences, they bring cultures closer together. French friends know what we drink and where we drink. And sometimes they do the same thing. But French wine makes them French, not our Irish Guinness.

In a way, national or other group identity becomes an integral part of the brand, a mark of quality. German beer, Russian Vodka, Armenian Artsakh cannot be separated from culture without losing its meaning. The places and practices of their consumption, though undergoing transformation, preserve the quality that is significant for the carrier of culture. So, Wilson gives the example of migrants from Hong Kong in Canada, for whom French cognac is associated with nostalgic memories of their homeland. At home, however, cognac was brought by the colonial expansion of England. And to England, in turn, from France as a drink of the European elite.

Places of alcohol consumption, according to a study by Dominique Désieu, Magdalena Jarven and Sophie Taponier, are places of special order of the night - milieu de la nuit. However, this nocturne mode isn't a cultural contradiction. Vice versa, what happens in bars and pubs, how the rules of liberation are arranged, what are the limits of what is permissible, whether mental or physical, is an essential part of culture. The way people behave in the bar of this or that culture is a reflection of what freedom is in that culture.

In the context of globalization, it would be wrong to imagine culture as something that takes place within national boundaries. Rather, culture is a process of building differences and mobilizing group identities. And the bar is the arena in which this mobilization takes place. And this arena can be geographically anywhere.

Anthropologist Wilson writes that time is just as important as space in matters of alcohol consumption. It's hard to imagine an American who drinks martinis at breakfast, but it's easy for a German who drinks champagne at breakfast. In the same America, alcohol consumption marks the transition from hard working day to rest late night, in Japan, an evening trip to a bar for corporate employees is part of the job.

The daily and weekly rhythms of alcohol tell us about the current time in culture. But there is an equally important time - the past. According to Wilson, the answer to the question "What have we been drinking?" structures culture no less than the answer to the question "What are we drinking? Myths about what has been accepted to drink since ancient times in Greece, in Russia, in Egypt set a serious field of constructing one's own identity. Historical credibility of the myth plays a negligible role - it is a myth. However, without this alternative past, representatives of many cultures would have had far fewer tools to be themselves.



  1. HUNT, Geoffrey and BARKER Judith C, ‘Socio-cultural Anthropology and Alcohol and Drug Research: Towards a unified Theory’

  2. Thomas Wilson Globalization, differentiation and drinking cultures, an anthropological perspective

  3. Dominique Desjeux, Magdalena Jarvin et Sophie Taponier REGARDS ANTHROPOLOGIQUES SUR LES BARS DE NUIT


Log in to leave a comment

Be the first who will comment it