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The place of drink: temperance and the public, 1856–1914

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Discussions of the place of drink in Britain between 1856 and 1914 were centrally concerned with alcohol as a public problem. Temperance organizations like the United Kingdom Alliance largely abandoned their attempts to reform individuals and instead demanded the prohibition of drink sales. This new concern for the public sphere of politics and public opinion was matched by a new sensitivity to the social contexts of drinking, the role of the drink trade and rituals of conviviality. Temperance documents thus allow us to glimpse two new senses of the public: a wider public sphere, in which the Alliance sought to organize public opinion through lectures, the press and the preparation of moral statistics; and a space of social interaction governed by rational behaviour and ideals of citizenship. It is also possible to construct a contrasting, 'customary', sense of public space based upon drink as a form of gift exchange which symbolized strong bonds of reciprocity. In striving to replace these ties with more abstract and political senses of citizenship and democratic rights, temperance workers played a part in the remaking of understandings of public space as a mirror image of the public sphere.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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