Accepted Paper:

' a little bit of a difficult one': drinking, health, and moral subjectivity in the lives of young adults in Melbourne  


James Wilson (Curtin University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper considers the lives of young adult drinkers in Melbourne as moral assemblages, demonstrating the significance of the interplay between health, morality, subjectivity, and alcohol use in negotiating the enactment of desired life trajectories amidst the competing demands of everyday life.

Paper long abstract:

Orienting citizens towards living safe, meaningful and healthy lives through the management of alcohol consumption has long been a priority for Australian alcohol policy. In this context, young adults in particular are produced as vulnerable not only to immediate, acute alcohol-related harms, but as also jeopardising their proper biological, social and moral development, and their futures, by engaging in risky alcohol use. In this presentation, I argue that this framework poses anthropological questions regarding the relationship between morality, subjectivity, health, and alcohol consumption that warrant critical attention.

In response, I adopt a moral assemblage approach, informed by Jarrett Zigon, which encourages an understanding of morality as a mode of living emerging from the exigencies of everyday life. In employing this framework, I examine the moral complexities of negotiating a desired life trajectory while meeting the demands of neo-liberal policy, by analysing ethnographic data collected amongst a network of young adults in Melbourne.

I argue these participants characterise their lives as relational, made up of various coalescing forces, and contextualised in a complex world. In this sense, I suggest, following Zigon, that they might be better understood as moral assemblages, produced in part through the complex interplay between work, family, health, and alcohol use. This theorisation not only carries potential policy implications, as it complicates the extent to which neo-liberal alcohol policy can be said to motivate and orient the lives of young adults, but also contributes to the ongoing anthropological theorisation of the relationship between morality, subjectivity and health.

Panel Med05
Disease and goodness