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Reducing Discursive Complexity: The Case of Alcohol Policies in Europe (1850–2000)

  • B. Lucas
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Abstract

Since the end of 19th century, alcohol policies have passed through three main phases: in all the western European countries, the interpretation shifted from moral redemption and public order to medical concern and, more recently, risk prevention. This evolution of alcohol discourse can be understood as a process of reduction of discursive complexity, i.e. articulation of some elements and exclusion of others. This process can be related to the changing place and role of the state in the welfare system: keeping social order in a minimal intervention logic, then providing reparation of damages in a centralised and planned way, and finally, promoting public health through the creation and co-ordination of policies networks. In order to illustrate that point, the first part of the paper describes the diffusion of temperance discourse at the turn of the century and the elaboration of the first political frame (1830–1930). In the second part, we discuss the way the disease model became hegemonic and resisted to challenging interpretations (1930–1975). In the third part, we observe the coming out of the public health model and the opening of a new discursive conflict (1975–1990); more recently (from the 1990s), we may see a redefinition of discourses and coalitions around the new concept of harm reduction. From the liberal state of the 19th century to the contemporary “network society”, still one question remains: does the policy making institutions and the democratic claims really support a more opened discursive space?

Key words

alcohol policy discourse analysis welfare state comparative history European countries 

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Lucas
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of GenevaSwitzerland
  2. 2.IEPI, University of LausanneSwitzerland

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