In South Africa, the polices regulating alcohol consumption are predominantly informed by medical and road accident studies, with little or no attention paid to people’s lived experiences of drinking. Failure to acknowledge the lived experiences of drinking could, as it has in the past, lead to penalizing policy measures which are not very effective. Therefore, this small research project explores the everyday experiences of alcohol consumption from the perspective of seven men living in a homeless shelter in urban Cape Town.
Through participant observation, informant photography and body tracing books, Nicci Wilkins has explored the men’s discursive and material worlds in relation to their motivations for drinking, and the effects of alcohol consumption on their bodies and their social lives. These men’s lived experiences demonstrate a strong connection between homelessness, alcohol consumption and the need to create a sense of belonging. This observation is supported by a range of literature on homelessness in the disciplines of psychology and nursing, but is seldom taken into consideration by South African alcohol policy makers. By paying attention to the multiple ways a sense of ‘belonging’ is created, this study offers an insight into some reasons why people drink and the effects of everyday drinking, which may help inform alcohol regulation policies in the future.