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Chapter 8 TOBACCO RITUAL AND ANTI-RITUAL: SUBSTANCE INGESTION AS A HISTORY OF SOCIAL BOUNDARIES RITUALS MARK BOUNDARIES of inclusion and exclusion. Such rituals at times are contested, by persons located in various relationships to those boundaries. At times the ritual itself is attacked, frequently by individuals or groups who do not recognize its ritual character; for these people, the staying power of the practice may appear inexplicable , irrational, or pathological. At other times, the boundary rather than the ritual is contested, and there are movements to break through the boundaries and become included on the other side of the ritual. Such rituals, too, can create new social boundaries, social identities and groups, rather than merely being adopted by preexisting groups. This is particularly so of what we may call lifestyle rituals, natural rituals in the middle ground between formal ceremonial and low key unfocused social encounters, represented in figure 7.1. Lifestyle rituals in the realm of leisure sociability have been especially important in the modern era, adding new boundaries to the older dimensions of class, religion, and ethnicity, and often displacing them in the subjective consciousness of modern people with the rituals of situational stratification. A useful case to study is tobacco ritual. It presents us with a relatively long history, with many forms of use going in and out of fashion among many different kinds of social groups. Along with it, throughout its history, have existed various forms of contestation, both antiritual movements and movements to shift the ritual boundaries. Tobacco and anti-tobacco movements have existed over the past four hundred years—indeed during the whole time since tobacco was introduced into the world beyond the tribal societies where it originated. Tobacco using—smoking, sniffing, or chewing—has made up a set of interaction rituals; and these rituals help to account for the strong attractiveness of tobacco for many of its users, the members of the tobacco community, and for their resistance to sometimes quite severe attempts at social control. The historically shifting appeal of tobacco, including its considerable but not yet terminal decline in recent de- 298 CHAPTER EIGHT cades, has been shaped by conditions that have shifted the strength of these social rituals. My aim is to explain how substances ingested into the body are experienced in a variety of ways—either as objects of attachment or of revulsion—depending on the ritual processes in which they take part.1 A study of tobacco simply in terms of its ritualism would have been theoretically straightforward in the social science world of the 1920s through the 1950s—although I do not know of any sociologist or anthropologist who attempted it. Since the 1980s a very different frame imposes itself. What seems the natural, indeed, inevitable way to approach the topic is as a health issue; and the perspective on tobacco use is to subsume it under the category of deviance, specifically under the rubric of substance abuse along with drugs and alcohol. The very awkwardness of the term “substance abuse” tells us something of the recent history, as it indicates the search by regulatory agencies and professional activists for a common denominator by which to designate all the forms of prohibited or deviant consumption. The word “substance ” is clumsy and as general as “stuff” or “thing,” and its dictionary meaning refers to any material constituent of the universe. The aimed-at referent seems to be whatever is ingestable into the human body but ought not to be. Thus one might wonder if food could not be an abusable “substance” under the purview of official agencies of social control. Viewed without irony and as a sociological topic, it is entirely plausible, perhaps even likely, that there will be just such an extension in the future to the ingestion of food as a form of substance abuse subject to both formal and informal movements of control.2 One such movement, in incipient form at the turn of the twenty-first century , is concerned about standards of body weight and obesity, and with the restriction of so-called “junk food” in schools. This suggests a general sociological perspective on contemporary “substance abuse” movements: the expansive activities of official agencies and professional movements organized around the interpretive categories of health, addiction, and the control of youth; on the informal side, these are movements promoting and contesting lifestyles. As sociologists, we should as always be awake to see that these activities are not just individual lifestyles, but rituals and thus...


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