University students’ drinking as a social practice and the challenge for public health

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In this paper, we explore the relational dynamics of alcohol consumption by university students, drawing on qualitative interviews with fifty undergraduates in Victoria, Australia. We argue that university drinking is a social practice comprised of a bundle of activities that operate together to reinforce excessive consumption. Drawing on a distinct version of social practice theory, we conceptualise drinking as an organising principle of university social life with interacting elements – meanings, materials and competences. The meanings of drinking include cultural conventions, expectations and socially shared meanings that alcohol is central to student life. Materials of drinking include objects and infrastructures such as, beverage choice, drinking venues and mobile phones. Drinking competences include managing bodily effects of alcohol but also social relationships while consuming alcohol. The distinct social practice perspective we utilise can assist public health to address the interrelated dynamics of alcohol consumption as a social practice, with its own trajectory into which students are recruited and become carriers of the practice while at university.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-237
Number of pages10
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • alcohol
  • social practice
  • university students
  • Drinking
  • youth

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