Interaction Patterns in the Neighborhood Tavern

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This study was undertaken in order to develop a systematic description and analysis of the social reality of the public drinking establishment with special reference to the neighborhood workingman's tavern. The perspective adopted was a focus on the non-pathological aspects of behavior associated with the consumption of beverage alcohol. Underlying this point of departure was the recognition that most research on drinking behavior is related to alcoholism but most drinking is not. The study had two purposes: first to attempt a descriptive analysis of social interaction in the tavern setting by translating observed behavior into relatively standard sociological concepts of norm, role, ecology, and communication. Beyond the descriptive purpose of this approach was the expectation that the organization of observations into such a conceptual scheme would enhance the scientific utility of the effort by providing for assimilability and comparability of the data with other research and theory. The second purpose was to test a new theoretical focus for its adequacy as an explanatory model. The focus is on behavior in public and semi-public places - an area falling some where between group studies on the one hand and studies of collective behavior on the other. The major component of this theoretical framework is the mechanism of involvement allocation which refers to the ways in which actors regulate the duration and intensity of their involvement in interpersonal interaction. As was anticipated much of what is unique to sociability in the tavern setting was explainable in terms of involvement allocation. Principally responsible for this is the fact that a tavern, regardless of its official definition, has the dual functions of dispensary and social event. Although the tavern is a prototypic case for involvement allocation it was concluded that this explanatory model might have wide application in interpersonal and intergroup behavior. The data were collected over a three year period by means of participant observation in a wide variety of settings. The core data represent observations taken over a two year period in four selected neighborhood taverns. The synchronic observation of these case taverns were then supplemented by spot observations taken in over one hundred other establishments. The third source of data was the published findings of similar and related studies. The contrast and comparison provided by these additional data aid considerably in verifying the raw data and their interpretation - an inherent problem in this kind of approach. The findings demonstrate that the social reality of the tavern setting consists in patterned behavior amenable to systematic description and analysis. Drinking is a never-present variable but rarely an exclusive preoccupation. A more fruitful approach in understanding the role of drinking in such a setting is to focus on its social rather than physiological consequences. As a part of the definition of the tavern, drinking is always an accepted major involvement and as such affords the individual considerable flexibility in his involvement in the social activities occurring simultaneously. Throughout the study much of what is characteristic of tavern behavior is explained in terms of the involvement allocation options offered by the tavern's dual function as dispensary and social event.