The modern anthropologist (or sociologist, human geographer or even social economist – who are we to discriminate?) will have had beaten into his enthused skull the importance of the three cornerstones of ethnographic methodology (and yes, we agree that’s rather a heap of long words for a morning-after-the-night-before such as this). Namely:
1. qualitative research;
2. quantitative research;
3. direct observation.
When it comes to matters of the glass, what this boils down to is:
1. asking folk why and how much they drink;
2. using concrete data to calculate how much they actually drink; and
3. spending time hanging our with people while they drink to see if you can work out what’s going on beneath it all.
It’s a tough life, this social alcohology lark.
Now, the above infographic from Gallup is based purely on user-generated data (i.e. questionnaires) and thus only yields what people perceive themselves to be doing and thinking – as opposed to the quantitative data about how much they actually consume. Surely this has less value than something more concrete, right? Not really. You see, it represents a vital part of the ethnographic triumvirate, yielding intriguing insight into how people see themselves consuming alcohol. According to the piece, which last year asked a spread of American adults about their preferred alcoholic beverages, there’s a notable trend: that the gap between beer drinkers and those who prefer wine and liquor is narrowing.
Of course, being qualitative, this might be pure nonsense. Hence the need to cross reference that with more hard-data about actual drinking preferences (people lie, doncherknow). And then we can start to unveil something far more insightful. Whether that’s a shift towards or away from beer, a growing or wilting response to the blossoming cocktail or the craft sectors, a change in the average number of drinks consumed versus volume of alcohol, day-by-day and month-by-month consumption trends, the input of age to the drinking equation, or even nationality/gender/politico-religious proclivities … a wondrously endless heap of insight into our drinking behaviours. And if that doesn’t lead to a good Friday night argument over a bottle of rye, then the gods alone know what will.