Document Type

Theses, Masters

Master Thesis

Master thesis


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Publication Details

Successfully submitted for the award of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) to the Technological University Dublin, 2005.


Recent studies and media commentary have highlighted a dramatic increase in alcohol consumption amongst young people in Ireland. Of particular concern is the extent of heavy, episodic drinking motivated by a desire for intoxication, or binge drinking. Various possible reasons for this have been identified, among them marketing activity and the glamorising of drink culture. The majority of studies into binge drinking define the phenomenon by volume measures of consumption alone and ignore the socio-cultural context in which alcohol is consumed. Drinking behaviours can be seen to be symptomatic of highly formalised and symbolically meaningful consumption patterns. As a ritual practice, the manner in which one drinks is related to the larger social structure in which it occurs. Ritual theory recognises the symbolic value of drinking occasions and attempts to locate this within its cultural context. The present research demonstrates how theories of ritual can provide a richer understanding of the symbolic meaning of alcohol as made manifest in actual consumption practices. The researcher carried out ethnographic research in order to observe market-based interactions in naturally occurring settings. In addition, in-depth interviews captured Consumer’ lived-in experiences, attitudes and opinions in their own terms. This thesis investigates young adult females’ alcohol consumption rituals with particular emphasis on the use of brands as ritual artefacts. The meaning of the brand is shown to have particular importance in the performance of ritual but neither the producer nor the consumer can be said to control this process. Product meanings are negotiated through rituals of consumption where consumer and producer interests interact. The significance of alcohol brands is not preordained or static. Used in different contexts or in different ways, alcohol brands can represent seemingly contradictory meanings. Drinkers are shown to be active, participating agents in the negotiation of brand meanings. Drinks brands carry a variety of meanings usually combining different and diverse associations, and these meanings are subjectively related to concepts of identity and social context. The interpretation culminates in a Model of Meaning Negotiation, which represents the process by which symbolic meaning emerges through consumptions rituals. It is argued that the symbolic meaning of ritual artefacts is not fixed but is an outcome of the interaction between producer and consumer in acts of consumption. The model recognises that brands cannot be abstracted from actual consumption practises, that is, that their significance relates to its use.


Included in

Sociology Commons



Document Type

Master thesis