In Homel, Tomsen and Thommeny’s study “Public Drinking and Violence: Not Just an Alcohol Problem” (1992), the researchers observe twenty three different homes in Sydney, Australia, in order to determine the different factors that can make physical violence a greater likelihood. In this essay, we will critically evaluate this study, to determine whether the research question, theoretical framework, and methodology are sound ways to get the results the researchers were looking for.
The research question, in an essence, is to determine whether or not violence occurs in the home or outside in social areas strictly because of the presence of alcohol. The reason for this is that significant legislation is often levied against alcohol-serving establishments in order to curb this violence – “fear of random, unprovoked violence from strangers now has a major effect on the lives of many ordinary Australians” (p. 680). In order to minimize violence, the reasons behind them must be determined, so that they can be dealt with in a reasonable manner.
The research question is sound, and is a valid issue to investigate; however, it can be quite difficult to separate the presence of alcohol from being a factor in instances of violence. There are many different things that could be taken into account, from the presence of alcohol in patrons before entering a bar to the level of lowered inhibitions and irritability that can come from alcohol consumption. The difficulty in recording thought processes and contexts in a situation of violence is difficult at best, and so the research question needs to be more specific in order to have an effective focus.
The theoretical framework is based on the problem of public violence; close investigation into the factors that cause this violence divides the causes into certain categories, of which alcohol consumption is one. The existing theory is one that was covered in a previous study performed in Vancouver, the conditions of which they are emulating in Sydney – that there is more to public violence than the mere presence of alcohol, and thus those conditions should be regulated as well. The theory is that a variety of factors, many independent of alcohol use but exacerbated by its presence, are involved in the escalation of physical violence in public places. The common wisdom is that alcohol causes the physical violence; however, the researchers think that there are other things that, in conjunction with the presence of alcohol, can cause it. These include the behavior of bouncers, discounted drink policies, and the overall environment and location of the club or bar. This is a sound framework; it presumes nothing, and leaves open a great many possibilities. However, a slight bit of specificity would not go amiss, as they would be able to more accurately target factors contributing to violence in these settings.
The hypothesis of the study is that there is more to physical violence than alcohol, and that these factors must be taken into consideration when making legislation and rules regarding behavior in the home and in establishments that serve alcohol. This hypothesis is fairly sound, as it focuses not on determining what is, but what isn’t; this is far easier to determine, especially in instances of behavior. Merely by determining the presence of additional factors in the instigation of violence, it can debunk the significant emphasis on regulating alcohol consumption as a means to lessen its likelihood.
The methodology for this study involved the replication of a Vancouver study, wherein situational observation was committed towards seventeen premises (typically bars and clubs) by a pair of observers for several hours at a time. During these times, notes would be made and narrative accounts would be created by the observers, denoting the level of violence that would occur, and the “situational variables and management practices in a small number of premises known to have been regularly violent over a long period of time with the same factors in a sample of establishments noted for their lack of violence or for their ability to defuse violent incidents when they occurred” (p. 683).
Basing the methodology on a previous study is a very strong indicator of a good strategy; provided it worked for the Vancouver study, it is clear that the methods worked. The only difference this time is applying it to a different cultural environment, namely Sydney. It also very much helps that they are looking for situational factors that contribute to violence, and not actual violent incidents – this increases the amount of data they can collect.
During the study, they observed over thirty assaults and instances of physical violence at these establishments. Due to the choice of overly violent premises, and the time of night that that chosen for this study, it was likely to have a greater instance of violent accounts. This is advantageous for the study, as the purpose is not to determine frequency of violent outbursts, but the reasons for them. The levels of the attacks were measured, and only a small number of the incidents were serious brawls. A lot of the violence was committed by patrons against employers and personnel of the clubs, including bouncers and floor managers. This speaks to a very specific type of violence that is meant to prevent other fighting, but actually is the only real violence that occurs. A lot of the violence were not out and out fights, as in equal brawling between two people; instead, others were attacked without provocation and are often smaller targets identified by bigger man.
According to the observations, there is little to no involvement of alcohol in being a primary motivator or factor in the instigation of physical violence. The types of patrons typically found in these establishments are young men in the working class, but this cannot be correlated to any higher level of violence. In fact, the greatest contributor of violence seemed to be gender, as men were more likely to fight among each other when they are in greater numbers together. This is due to a higher level of aggression and competitiveness that arises between single men often vying for attention from single women (Wells et al., 2011). Couples, on the other hand, would be less likely to start fights, an assertion which is substantiated by other studies (Graham et al., 2010). These observations were the most pertinent ones recorded by the researchers during their study.
The social atmosphere was determined to be very relevant to the arising of violence between individuals. More comfortable places (regardless of cleanliness) made their customers happier, and more spacious places prevented overcrowding, which was another factor in attracting violence. This is not to say that drinking is not a factor; it is still a significant thing to consider when looking into what causes violence in bars and clubs (Hughes et al., 2008).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The researchers cite the Vancouver study, and how their own findings coincide with what they found. They state that routine activities, like social functions and going to bars and clubs, gather people toward each other, particularly strangers – Treno et al., (2008) in their study “Examining multi-level relationships between bars, hostility and aggression: social selection and social influence,” backs up this assertion, equating unfamiliarity with hostility in bars. This, then, in addition to the role of alcohol, increases the chance that physical violence will occur. While alcohol in and of itself does not make someone violent, it can make someone more frustrated and irritable, and can lower inhibitions to the point where violence can occur. This is not helped by the fact that strangers are placed in an overcrowded, dimly lit area with alcohol, supervised by bouncers who are meant to be aggressive so as to discourage other people from becoming violent. However, this has led to some of the more violent encounters that cause greater physical damage to its victims.
The conclusion determined by the researchers indicates that the problem of physical violence in clubs and bars cannot be strictly solved by laws against alcohol consumption, but by changing the routine that is established by people who frequent these places. Some of the worst places – the “hot spots” – should have their license revoked, but this is acknowledged as an extreme method of solving the problem. A more reasonable way, which is noted by the researchers, is to regulate the methods of recourse bouncers are afforded in kicking out unruly patrons; this would cut out the more violent attacks. What’s more, discounted drinks should be discouraged and regulated, as that is another principal cause of excess consumption; this is also said to not have a significant effect on physical violence.
In conclusion, this is a sound study that could use more specificity in its theoretical framework. The fact that it is based on a previously conducted study lends credence to their methodology, and their results strongly support their hypothesis. Despite the fact that the researchers’ framework was quite open-ended, they were at least able to identify a couple of strong factors besides alcohol that can bring about instances of violent behavior in these establishments. With this in mind, a great level of information was gleaned about the Sydney club scene, with several reasonable suggestions as to how to improve conditions.
Graham, K., Wells, S., Bernards, S., & Dennison, S. (2010). "Yes, I do but not with you": Qualitative analyses of sexual/romantic overture-related aggression in bars and clubs. Contemporary Drug Problems, 37(2), 197-240.
Homel, R., Tomsen, S., & Thommeny, J. (1992). Public Drinking and Violence: Not Just an Alcohol Problem. The Journal of Drug Issues, 22(3), 679-697.
Hughes, K., Anderson, Z., Morleo, M., & Bellis, M. (2008). Alcohol, nightlife and violence: the relative contributions of drinking before and during nights out to negative health and criminal justice outcomes. Addiction, 103(1), 60-65.
Treno, A., Gruenewald, P., Remer, L., Johnson, F., & LaScala, E. (2008). Examining multi-level relationships between bars, hostility and aggression: social selection and social influence. Addiction, 103(1), 12.
Wells, S., Graham, K., Tremblay, P., & Magyarody, N. (2011). Not Just the Booze Talking: Trait Aggression and Hypermasculinity Distinguish Perpetrators From Victims of Male Barroom Aggression. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 35(4), 613-620.