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Researching Women’s Lived Relationships to Alcohol With and Without Images and Objects

By: Published: 2017 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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In social science research, alcohol is conventionally approached as a public health problem. Women’s drinking in particular has been associated with stigma and “mother’s ruin.” Despite the focus on addiction and drunkenness in much of the existing social science research and in the popular press, most people’s relationships to alcohol are not characterized by addiction or regular drunkenness. Rather, alcohol is a pervasive component of people’s day-to-day lives: it is a potential source of both pleasure and harm that for many people is embedded in the structure of weekly life. My PhD research explores the uses and meanings of alcohol in the day-to-day lives of three generations of women residing in the North West of England. It aims to understand how relationships to alcohol change as women grow older and “travel through” the life course, as well as generational changes in how women have experienced and made sense of drinking alcohol. I conducted 38 life history interviews focusing on participants’ “drinking biographies,” that is, their narratives about what role, if any, alcohol played in their lives, beginning with childhood and ending with the present. In some of these interviews, photo and object elicitation techniques were employed, whereas in other interviews these techniques were not used. This case study explores the benefits as well as some of the practical limitations and challenges of using photo and object elicitation techniques in life history interviews and stresses the importance of being prepared to improvise when using these techniques.

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Life history interviews

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