Understanding Excess

Co-convenors: Beat Kümin and Geoffrey Hunt

Excessive drinking has long been of concern to human societies. In pre-modern Europe, the emphasis lay on controlling (popular) behaviour. Concerted attempts to avoid God’s wrath and halt moral decline have been conceptualized as social disciplining (Gerhard Oestreich) and a civilizing process (Norbert Elias), both perceived as key agents on the road to modernization. From the later twentieth century, in the wake of industrialized production and rising prosperity in the West, the focus shifted to the management of oversupply: what to do with cheap booze, happy hours and binge-drinking (perceived as all the more scandalous given persistent scarcity elsewhere)? On the other hand, of course, some cultural strands have thrived on indulgence, be it carnivals, drinking rituals or rites of passage, while adherents of the Bacchanalian tradition – ranging from Antique Greek symposia via seventeenth-century libertines to the Beat Generation of the 1960s – celebrated excess for intellectual and artistic inspiration. More fundamentally perhaps, given variables of individual constitutions, situations and perspectives, there is rarely agreement on the definition of excess. In the present, ‘extreme drinking’ (Fiona Measham) can be interpreted as hedonistic escapism or a fundamental threat to public health and order.

This research cluster of the Drinking Studies Network aims to investigate the manifold dimensions of the phenomenon across time and space. It considers aspects of production, distribution and consumption; extremes ranging from alcohol addiction to total abstinence; quantitative alongside qualitative approaches; official norms as well as deliberate transgression; social / gender / age profiles; health risks and commercial exploitation. In contrast to sensationalist media coverage of universal trends and common stereotypes, the cluster attempts to generate long-term data, evaluate the heterogeneous cultural frameworks, explain periodic moral panics and illuminate the contested boundaries between moderation and excess. Expressions of interest and proposals for projects are warmly welcomed and should be directed to Beat Kümin (b.kumin@warwick.ac.uk) in the first instance.

Cluster activities

  • Workshop 1 (Warwick, 18 November 2016): Report by Sam Goodman.

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  • Workshop 2 (Skype, 6 April 2017): Report by Sam Goodman.
  • Workshop 3 (Skype, 16 May 2017): Report by Sam Goodman.

‘Visualization of Excess’ call for participation

Building on our first workshops, the cluster aims to explore various ways and formats of ‘Visualizing Excess’, especially with regard to the definition of boundaries between acceptable/unacceptable drinking. If you are interested in participating, please mail b.kumin@warwick.ac.uk. New members always welcome !

Bios of co-convenors:

Beat Kümin (b.kumin@warwick.ac.uk)

Beat Kümin is Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Warwick. His research interests focus on social centres in local communities, with particular consideration of the German lands between c.1400-1800. Publications include Drinking Matters: Public Houses and Social Exchange in Early Modern Central Europe (Palgrave, 2007), the edited anthology A Cultural History of Food in the Early Modern Age (Bloomsbury, 2012) and the essay / source collections The World of the Tavern: Public Houses in Early Modern Europe (Ashgate, 2002) / Public Drinking in the Early Modern World, vols 2-3: The Holy Roman Empire (Pickering & Chatto, 2011), the latter two co-edited with B. Ann Tlusty. He teaches an undergraduate option on pre-modern taverns, co-founded the Drinking Studies Network and co-directs the annual summer university of the European Institute for Food History & Culture at Tours.

Geoffrey Hunt (gh.crf@psy.au.dk)

Geoffrey Hunt is a social and cultural anthropologist, who has had over 30 years experience in planning, conducting, and managing research in the field of drugs, alcohol and youth studies.  Currently he is Professor at the Centre for Alcohol and Drugs Research at Aarhus University, Denmark, and Senior Research Scientist at the Institute for Scientific Analysis, in San Francisco. He is also currently the Principal Investigator (PI) on a National Institutes on Health and National Science Foundation funded projects on Gender and Intoxication and also PI on a Danish Research Council project on the same topic. He has published widely in the field of substance use studies in many of the leading sociology, anthropology and criminology journals in the United States and the UK. His recent book publications include Youth Drugs and Nightlife (Routledge, 2010), Drugs and Culture (Ashgate, 2011) and Handbook of Drug and Alcohol Studies, Vol. I: (Sage, 2016).