Anglia Ruskin University
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‘Moral wrecks’ – a comparative historical study of the regulation of women’s drinking in Britain

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posted on 2023-08-30, 15:21 authored by Rachel Ryder
This is a study of the techniques of moral regulation projects which target the drinking practices of women. It takes a historical comparative approach, because women’s drinking has been identified as a perennial concern, yet the existing body of evidence points to far fewer women than men experiencing alcohol related harms. The imperative to regulate women’s drinking practices comes from government and extra-state organisations, and their attempt to shape women’s drinking practices through discourses is the focus of this study. The research focused on source materials produced by alcohol regulation campaign groups from two time periods, 1830 – 1872, and 2004 – 2014. The materials, Temperance tracts, and contemporary posters, were identified on the basis that they were widely available to drinking women in their respective time periods. The materials were analysed using a narrative analysis method, exploring both the textual and visual content of each source. The data analysis was informed by moral regulation theory, theories of governance and post-feminist theory. The key findings of the study are that women’s drinking is primarily constructed as a social problem of disorder. The use of two distinctive tropes, the ‘controlled woman’ and the ‘uncontrolled woman’ dominated the sources in both time periods. Constructed through themes of dirt, loss, sexuality, charity, feminine poise and moral governance, the tropes were underpinned by the concept of character. Undertaking a historical comparison of alcohol regulation campaign groups enabled an insight into how the discourses used in contemporary alcohol regulation campaigns show clear continuities in the themes and techniques used by campaign groups in the mid-19th century in Britain. These moral regulation projects seek to impact on women’s drinking through a technique which assumes that women possess ‘Character’ – an attribute which the campaign groups assume will respond to the discourses presented in their materials.



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