This paper examines the popular reaction to the implementation of licensing reforms in England and Wales in 2005. It characterises these events as an episode of moral panic and seeks an ideological explanation for this alarmist response. Utilising historical perspectives, the paper draws particular attention to the formative importance of the Nineteenth Century in terms of constructing contemporary public attitudes towards alcohol. This paper draws on existing sociology and social history to highlight an international and chronological pattern which suggests a connection between Victorian temperance movements and ascetic brands of Protestantism. Through a consideration of Max Weber, E.P. Thompson and a variety of primary sources, an interpretive explanation for this pattern is provided. Legal evidence, showing the growth of alcohol regulation and the partial enforcement of temperance codes of behaviour, is then used to illustrate the survival and secularisation of temperance views from the Nineteenth Century onwards. An interpretive analysis of public discourse surrounding licensing reform in 2005 provides empirical support for this argument. Attitudes to alcohol exhibited during this episode were found to bear qualitative similarities to Calvinist-inspired temperance beliefs. The paper argues that ascetic Protestant attitudes to alcohol have achieved a wide currency and now occupy a hegemonic position within secular British society. The public reaction to the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003 is thus reinterpreted as a moral panic largely constructed by ascetic Protestant beliefs.
Sociological Research Online – SAGE
Published: Mar 1, 2009
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