Accepted paper:

Caring, not quitting: affective meanings of smoking in a former mining village in the north east of England


Frances Thirlway (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

Tobacco is sometimes presented as an agent of enlightenment as well as destruction. I argue that in one English community, smoking was an unremarkable practice which was neither glamorised nor stigmatised, but reproduced as an affective link to previous generations.

Paper long abstract:

Following extensive fieldwork mainly with older people in an ex-mining village in County Durham, I argue that smoking in this stable community was an unremarkable, everyday practice which was neither glamorised nor stigmatised, but which functioned as a marker of responsible adulthood involving taking on responsibilities within the family and replicating its values. Affective memories of parental smoking made it difficult for continuing and indeed former smokers to distance themselves definitively from cigarettes, with relapses common even after many years of cessation, and in old age. Women in particular reproduced maternal smoking patterns at the same time as gendered caring roles. The two main factors which facilitated smoking cessation were social mobility, which created distance from parental memories, and urgent health threats to self or family which remade the once friendly and familiar cigarette as alien and dangerous. Those who continued to smoke were not so much 'hardened smokers' as discouraged quitters in a community where chronic ill-health (often linked to occupational exposures) was a commonplace for smokers, former smokers and never-smokers alike.

panel P08
Tobacco and Enlightenment