Meeting the Sober Self, Recognizing the Drinking Self: Back to Baseline Experimentation in Temporary Sobriety Initiatives

SAGE Publications
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Contemporary Drug Problems, 2018, 45 (3), pp. 283 - 302 (20)
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Temporary sobriety initiatives (TSIs), popular month-long campaigns in which people abstain from alcohol to raise money for charity, aim to change participants’ relationship with alcohol. Identifying the structural and practical mechanisms of TSIs that facilitate the desired changes is an important element in understanding their popularity and purported effectiveness as public health campaigns. Drawing upon in-depth interviews with 15 Australian FebFast participants, this article argues that TSI participants, often guided by campaign organizers, loosely adopt the self-tracking and self-experimentation practices of the Quantified Self (QS) movement, which open up aspects of oneself and of alcohol that are normally hidden in order to facilitate self-improvement via discovery. Drew Leder’s corporeal phenomenology of absence and presence underpins the analysis of howTSI participants contrast deliberate periods of sobriety and inattentive normal drinking to convert abstract knowledge about alcohol and its effects into personally salient information based on lived experience. In doing so, participants shift the valence of their ambivalence about drinking even at moderate levels and convert it from the less behaviorally impactful potential ambivalence to its more influential felt form. Through such experiments, TSI participants problematize their drinking; make real the physical, psychological, and social impacts of alcohol; and even redefine what they know it to be.
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