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 Updates 

  • Several members of the Understanding Excess cluster are currently finalizing a joint publication on ‘Altered States: Changing Conditions of Excess in European Drinking Cultures’. Alongside, we explore ways of ‘visualizing excess’ in various media and are always open to new participants and activities. Contact: Beat Kümin (b.kumin@warwick.ac.uk)
  • The ‘European Institute for the History & Cultures of Food’ invites proposals for panels and individual papers at the ‘Sixth International Convention on Food and Drink Studies‘ to be held at Tours in France on 4-5 June 2020. This is a flagship conference in our field with hundreds of delegates. It welcomes contributions on any aspect / period / region and hopes to further enhance its links with the Drinking Studies Network, which has played a prominent role in recent years. Submissions are due by 15 November 2019. If you have any questions / ideas or need a session moderator please contact DSN / IEHCA member Beat Kümin (b.kumin@warwick.ac.uk).

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.
  • Cluster Roundtable at the DSN’s ‘Changing Drinking Cultures’ conference (Leicester, 3 February 2018): ‘“How Much is Too Much?” Visualizing the Changing Boundaries of Excess’

Laura Fenton (University of Manchester, UK)
‘Big Thursday?’ Using research photos to visualize the boundaries of excess

Sam Goodman (Bournemouth University, UK)
‘A Post-punk, Apocalyptic, Motherfucker of a Craft Brewery’ – BrewDog, Craft Beer and 21st-Century Excess.

Dave Hitchcock (Canterbury Christ Church University, UK)
‘When I am in the alehouse / no man so great as I’: Visualizing early modern vagrant Excess

Geoffrey Hunt (Aarhus University, Denmark, and the Institute for Scientific Analysis, San Francisco, USA)
Panel Commentator and Chair

Beat Kümin (University of Warwick, UK)
Negotiating Religious Boundaries: Martin Luther on Alcohol Consumption

Jennifer Wallis (Queen Mary, University of London, UK)
The handbag that “lets you get your drink on”: Fashion, excess, and secret drinking

Paper Abstracts / Twitter Feed #DSN2018

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Laura Fenton, Beat Kümin, Dave Hitchcock, Sam Goodman, Jennifer Wallis and Geoffrey Hunt during our panel session at the DSN conference on 3 February 2018. Pic: Deborah Toner.

  • ‘Visualizing the Changing Boundaries of Drinking Excess’ – Panel Session at the 4th International Convention of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (Tours/France, 8 June 2018)
    Chair: Allen Grieco (Villa I Tatti, Florence)

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Beat Kümin (University of Warwick, UK)
‘Introduction’ and ‘Negotiating Religious Boundaries of Excess’

Laura Fenton (University of Manchester, UK)
‘Visualising the Boundaries of Excess through Research Photographs’

Geoffrey Hunt (Aarhus University, Denmark, and the Institute for Scientific Analysis, San Francisco, USA)
Panel Commentator

Panel Description

‘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).