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In this occasional series we record the views and personal experiences of people who have specially contributed to the evolution of ideas in the journal’s field of interest. Juha Partanen is a Finnish social researcher with strong international interests. His work has often focused on drinking and drinking problems but he has also been concerned with wider issues. For many years he has worked at the Finnish Social Research Institute for Alcohol Studies and was, for a time, its Director.

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STARTING OUT

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

Addiction (A): Did you grow up in Helsinki, or where did you start?

Juha Partanen (JP): No, I grew up in the country, in eastern Finland, quite near the Russian border, and I am basically a country boy, although I have enjoyed my stays in places such as Paris or Tokyo.

A: So, you came to Helsinki to go to university?

JP: Yes. I started my studies at the University of Helsinki at the age of 17 in 1954: statistics, mathematics and sociology. It was a great thing to find Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture, and I also tried to study philosophy, but the fact is that I do not have a philosophical mind. My attitude to philosophy is similar to Dr Zhivago’s. He says that philosophy is like horseradish: it is an excellent seasoning, but who would want to eat only horseradish?

A: That was almost 10 years after the war. What was the atmosphere like at the university? If you had talked about a university in America or Australia then, it would have been a quiet time politically.

JP: Politically very quiet, yes. But if I think of the kind of education I had there, I must say that apart from my mathematics professors, the education at the faculty of political science was not very inspiring. There was practically no tutoring or guidance; one had to find things oneself. This is the reason that I have had several blind alleys in my career. For example, I spent several years in the 1960s trying to develop a logic of data analysis in terms of abstract algebra. I was planning to undertake a PhD dissertation on it. But nothing came of it, and there was no one to tell me that the whole effort was totally futile. However, it gave me some independence. I learned to be on my own, to make my own choices without following a great guru or belonging to any particular school or sect, and I suppose this has affected quite significantly the way I have been doing things. I would speak of a quality of serendipity, finding things by chance. But along the way I learned quite a few statistical tricks, to deal with all kinds of data, and this was very useful for me when I had to start to pay my way.

A: So what was your first job?

JP: Well, let me start by saying that I have never performed real work in my life. I have always been a researcher. This started before I was 10 years old, and it began with plants. I always preferred plants to birds because they do not fly swiftly from one place to another. Mathematics also came very early—it was almost as important as girls for me; and so it was a natural thing to take statistics and mathematics at the university.

A: When you were studying statistics and mathematics did you see a future for yourself as a mathematics professor?

JP: Well—I was good at solving problems, but later on when studying mathematics, I realized that I lacked mathematical imagination. I suppose I like to deal with empirical things and raw data, not only abstract things.

A: So what were the first problems that you worked on concretely?

JP: I had some jobs, minor work, at the time I was studying. But then my first contact with alcohol research was when, as a young statistician, I was hired, more or less by accident, as a research assistant to an American visiting scholar, Peter Park, later a professor of sociology. He was visiting the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies in Helsinki. His research problem was to find out whether Jellinek’s famous horseshoe model of the development of alcoholism fitted the real careers of Finnish alcoholics (Park 1962). Well, it did not. There was no regular sequence.

A: Other early influences at that time?

JP: I met Kettil Bruun at that time, who was secretary of the Foundation; but that was only a short-term job. At that time I was still far more interested in mathematics and statistics, and very little in alcohol issues. For example, I was an adjunct acting professor of statistics for one year at the university, and my mathematics professor arranged a job for me at the Institute of Statistics at Stanford University. I spent most of 1964 there. It was a great adventure for a young man. I learnt to drive and I bought my first car. But I am afraid that my contribution to item analysis remained totally insignificant.

THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

A: 1964 was an exciting time to be in the San Francisco area?

JP: It was, it was. There was the civil rights movement. Actually, I crossed the country: I took a month travelling in my car—Texas, New Orleans, Toronto and so on. I was interested in the civil rights movement, and I interviewed some people and wrote a couple of articles for Finnish newspapers on that basis.

A: And when you reached home again?

JP: When I came back to Finland, I was offered a major project at the Social Research Institute for Alcohol Studies. I put a condition on taking the job; I wanted to have a couch in my study. And I got it. I would like to say something about the Institute, because it was quite a special place. It had been founded in 1952 and administratively it was part of Alko, the Finnish Alcohol Monopoly, but it was an independent research unit. The idea was not so much to serve decision-making in Alko, but to provide an information basis for the discussion of alcohol issues in general. We also had close links with the academic world. The Institute remained in Alko until 1995, when Alko lost its central position in alcohol policies, and we were transferred to STAKES, the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health, under auspices of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. In addition to the Institute, there is also the Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, even more independent in its research policies. Its research grants provide a steady flow of support for young aspiring researchers, and some of them are given permanent jobs at the Institute later on. I think this has been an excellent arrangement, due to Kettil Bruun’s political and administrative skills, combining young people’s enthusiasm and senior researchers’ experience—and, of course, the generous financing by Alko. To give an example, there was a special staff of interviewers trained for alcohol research, picked from the Alko sales personnel.

A: What were the origins of the Finnish alcohol research endeavour?

JP: All this was due essentially to a man called Pekka Kuusi, a researcher—he carried out the first drinking survey in Finland in 1946 (Kuusi 1948), and later became the head of Alko. He was a man who believed firmly in the scientific planning of social affairs. Alko also financed biological and biomedical research on alcohol, but there was little concrete collaboration between us and them; the theoretical frames were too far apart.

A: How long did you stay at the Institute?

JP: The Institute became my home base for nearly 40 years, in daily contact with people such as Klaus Mäkelä, Pekka Sulkunen, Jussi Simpura, Marja Holmila and others. But the central figure, as long as he lived, was Kettil Bruun. Unfortunately, he died at the age of 61, working too hard and living very intensely. He [Kettil Bruun] was the first head of the Institute, and the first secretary of the Foundation. Apart from being a brilliant researcher he was a kind of genius in manoeuvring research policy.

‘He [Kettil Bruun] was the first head of the Institute, and the first secretary of the Foundation. Apart from being a brilliant researcher he was a kind of genius in manoeuvring research policy.’

TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

A: What was the major project you were hired for in 1964?

JP: Several years before the Foundation had launched a large multi-disciplinary study on twins, and the Institute had collected a unique data set consisting of 902 male twin pairs. There was quite a substantial amount of information on their drinking habits, psychological variables, intelligence and a number of other things; but they had no one to analyse these data, so they hired me.

A: That was a very multi-disciplinary project, I understand.

JP: That is right. There were biological markers as well. I set out to analyse these data using all the statistical tricks I had learned. Together with Kettil Bruun, I wrote the monograph entitled Inheritance of Drinking Behaviour (Partanen et al. 1966). To everyone’s surprise, it was received favourably in the international literature. The main result was that the drinking variables showed a great deal of heritability. Not as much as intelligence, but quite a lot; whereas areas such as arrests for drunkenness or any other social consequences of drinking did not seem heritable at all. I think this makes sense in light of what has been found out subsequently about the genetics of alcohol.

A: Then, my memory is that you started to conduct an observational study?

JP: Well, I carried out some research on Finnish restaurants.

A: How did you get into that?

JP: Actually, in the 1960s most Finns never went to a restaurant. It was essentially an upper-class institution. Women were treated rather badly, and there were all kinds of controls. So, when the general cultural climate changed, the old-fashioned manner in which the restaurants were run faced some criticism, and that was one aspect of why Alko wished this type of study to be carried out. I conducted a population survey on the customers, and interviewed close to 200 restaurant managers about the way they saw the situation. The people in Alko were keen on this silly idea that the restaurants could exert a civilizing influence on Finnish drinking. I carried out an analysis showing that the on-licence environment was much wetter than off-licence (Partanen 1975).

A: That people were in fact becoming more drunk in the restaurant than at home?

JP: That is right. That is why they went to restaurants.

A: In fact, what is called a restaurant in Finland often resembles what would be called a bar or pub elsewhere.

JP: That is right, yes. After that, I did not quite know what to do. I was interested in media and communication studies, and I even tried my hand at city and regional planning. But then in the 1970s came Marxist theory, and a study which occupied me for several years.

A: For that you were on leave from the Institute?

JP: Well, again it was Kettil Bruun who gave me the opportunity, when the whole system of research policy and the Academy of Finland were reorganized. Kettil was given a key position as the chairman of the Academy’s section on social sciences, and he was able to arrange things in such a way that I first wrote a small monograph—or perhaps a pamphlet—for the Academy on information policies. Then I planned a research project, and created a research group to study the state of democracy and equality in Finland. The project took 4 years, but altogether this period of my life lasted from 1971 to 1977. One could say that we were the senior wing of the radical student movement. Although not directly involved in politics, we had to accept the fact that we were labelled as extreme left-wing activists. Altogether our project produced some 40 publications, among other things my Marxist-inspired analysis of advertising, on both its economic and its semiotic aspects, as I had spent some time in France studying semiotics. Finally, I wrote a monograph with Jukka Gronow, who is now a sociology professor at Uppsala—a 500-page analysis of the Finnish political regime and its economic basis (Gronow et al. 1977).

A: How was this received?

JP: Well, during the project the conservative forces against all leftist orientations in cultural life were effectively mobilized, and we were an obvious target. I received much more than Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame, because our project raised considerable political controversy. There were editorials, cartoons, TV debates and even pamphlets written to criticize us. Even the taxi drivers knew me! There is one thing that I am really proud of: the culmination of the process, a delegation led by the Archbishop to the Minister of Education asking that the financing of our project be cut off. Of course the Academy of Finland, keen on its independence, refused to do this and in the end our monograph received serious academic reviews, and it was used as a textbook for several years in many universities.

A: Do you see it as having had an influence on Finnish society in the end?

JP: Not really, and, after these 30 years, it is more or less dated. We have a new constitution, we are part of the European Union and the class structure has changed. Our work was tied closely to that historical period. All this has no direct connection with alcohol research, but I have to mention these things because it was a very active period in my life, and without this experience I am sure I would be much less happy about my life. Of course, it affected my later work, when I returned to alcohol research and to our Institute. I could do that because I had a special agreement with Alko. The following year I was chosen to be head of our Institute for 5 years. We could choose our director ourselves, and Alko always accepted. I then took up the theme of alcohol education. That was another project also financed generously by Alko.

A: At the point when you became the director, how were the research priorities set for the Institute? Did the Ministry come and say ‘We want this problem solved’, or ‘We want this problem studied’, or was the research agenda essentially internally generated?

JP: It was internally generated. We had our discussions, and always some kind of consensus emerged that this would be a good topic. It is almost unimaginable how free and independent we could be. Nowadays, the situation has changed quite considerably.

A: My impression from the outside was that there was also a tradition of encouraging people to have an interest outside alcohol?

JP: Yes. Practically all our senior researchers had academic positions at one time or another.

A: So you decided you were going to do something about alcohol education?

JP: That is right. On a practical level I was involved in some film projects, as a kind of producer, looking after the interests of Alko.

A: These would be films to be shown in schools?

JP: That is right, yes, educational films. However, going through the existing research literature, it became evident to me very quickly that alcohol education, as it is practised, simply does not work. The question was, is there something that could be done about this? I had a group of three younger colleagues and I had two basic ideas. I believed that it was important to take into account the media environment into which educational messages are inserted. We studied the literature on alcohol advertising, looked at the mass media as a forum for the discussion of alcohol issues and at the presence of alcohol in the media, especially on television and in the cinema. One thing I did was to choose 12 drinking scenes from Finnish films, and organized a seminar, ‘Finnish intoxication on the screen’, in which alcohol researchers and film experts discussed their content (Partanen 1980). It was a very stimulating seminar, and it gave rise to eight articles altogether.

INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

A: It also touched off research in other countries, in the United States and France, at least.

JP: Yes. The most influential and most widely cited article was by Pekka Sulkunen & Pasi Falk (Falk & Sulkunen 1983) Seeing that it is very difficult to change people’s drinking habits directly, I thought that perhaps one could try some kind of more indirect approach, a more roundabout way to persuade people. My idea was that perhaps one could make people understand and accept restrictive alcohol policies, restrictions on availability and the relatively high price we had for alcohol in Finland. I remember Fidel Castro once said that it is better to have cheap books and expensive alcohol, rather than the other way around. Altogether I published a few articles on these issues, and it was summed up in a small book for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Copenhagen, Alcohol and the Mass Media (Partanen & Montonen 1988).

‘I remember Fidel Castro once said that it is better to have cheap books and expensive alcohol, rather than the other way around.’

A: You had learned Russian somewhere along the way?

JP: That is true, I was always interested in languages.

A: And, in fact, in the late 1980s you published an article, a very good article in my view, about the anti-alcohol campaign of the Gorbachev period (Partanen 1987).

JP: I am afraid I was a little too kind about what was going on, although I wrote other articles afterwards which were a corrective (Partanen 1993).

A: Around this time you became interested in the developing world, but also more generally in alcohol on the international scene.

JP: Well, first it was Kenya, and that was another serendipitous affair. My ex-wife, a diplomat, was stationed at the Finnish embassy in Nairobi, and I wanted to visit her and our adopted daughter. So I presented a very modest, small-scale research proposal entitled ‘The opinion climate on alcohol issues in Kenya’. My employer, Alko, was active at that time in exporting not only its products and its expertise in the manufacture of alcohol, but also thinking about the possibility of exporting the kind of alcohol policy and system we had in Finland—or at least they thought that their export efforts needed to be balanced by more humanitarian concerns. At the same time the Finnish temperance movements were criticizing Alko for its export drive, so my project was accepted. At that time there was also some interest in developing countries from WHO, and the Cavanaugh & Claremont book on alcohol exports to the Third World (Cavanaugh & Clairmonte 1985). I visited Kenya for 2 weeks at the beginning of 1985 in order to find out whether the idea was at all feasible, and to gain an affiliation with the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of Nairobi. The next year I spent some 4 months in Kenya, mainly in Nairobi but also travelling a little around the country. The idea was to interview relevant people in Kenya, and to write a report on the basis of the interviews. What happened was that this very modest research idea began to grow. It emerged that there was a wealth of documentary material available, and some research reports as well. All this was brought to my attention by my interviews.

A: You were talking to people in the ministries and so forth?

JP: Yes, and in particular I should mention one Dutch study which, for the first time, as far as I know, estimated the extent of unregistered alcohol consumption in a developing country (Nout 1981). It appeared that well over 80% of the alcohol consumption was from unregistered sources, or by cottage industry production. This is a situation which is totally unlike that of industrialized countries. I also went through all the anthropological studies on African societies dealing with alcohol and drinking—I was able to locate 34 such studies. I resorted to the data from Yale University’s Human Relations Area Files that had been used in cross-cultural studies of drinking in the 1960s (Bacon et al. 1965). I then spent some 5 years, on and off, working on these materials.

A: This became, in fact, your dissertation eventually (Partanen 1991)?

JP: Yes, the first part of it became a description of alcohol and drinking in Kenya, a kind of country profile. It was even possible to carry out an econometric analysis on beer consumption on the basis of time-series data.

A: This was the first one conducted in a developing country, as far as I know.

JP: I think so, yes. There was also a lengthy discussion on the political regime—its very authoritarian character and the presence of endemic corruption—subjects with deep roots in the traditional African gift economy, on one hand, and in the colonial past on the other hand. I tried to characterize alcohol-related problems—there was no quantitative, only qualitative information for that—and to identify the agents for social change. The importance of the church and religious affiliation was a surprise for me. Finally I presented an overview of temperance in Africa, its various meanings—it is by no means a simple concept—and its extent. The main message, however, was that alcohol issues were not very high on the political agenda in comparison to other more urgent problems, such as poverty and public health. Neither did the administrative apparatus seem capable of dealing with these issues. Brewing was and still is a very important part of the informal sector of the economy, a source of income for many women who have to take care of their families, and Kenya Breweries Ltd was the pride of the nation. So I do not think that my analysis or my very modest suggestions have had any influence on alcohol policies in Kenya.

A: Was your study reported in Kenya?

JP: Well, it came out as a monograph and I distributed copies quite widely. But I do not know about any press coverage.

A: It became quite important later when scholars were looking for work on developing societies, and so I think it had an influence on them, certainly in the research community.

JP: OK. Still, I do not think many people have read the whole book—because there was a rather heavy second part. My experience of drinking in Africa gave me much food for thought. I could not resist the temptation to start rethinking just about everything I had ever thought about alcohol, and the role of alcohol in our modern world. Perhaps including this was not a very judicious decision, because it became a kind of monster book. In the second part of the book I developed and drew together some themes I have also dealt with in other connections. My intention was to try to develop a kind of theory of alcohol, a social theory. It was also an attempt to spell out what I had learned about Africa.

HEROIC DRINKING

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

A: But it was also about Finland in some ways?

JP: In some ways, yes. I tried to make a comparison between traditional drinking and the role of alcohol in the modern world, that was one of the themes. Some anthropologists have now claimed that there are societies, especially in Africa, where the use of alcohol is totally problem-free, and they have called it integrated drinking. I examined the literature carefully and came to the conclusion, first, that the idea of integrated drinking is a very fuzzy concept—it has been given very different meanings; and secondly, that in reality there is no such thing. Problems are always lurking when alcohol or any other psychoactive substance is used. In my view, alcohol is a fundamentally ambivalent substance and this is more or less clearly recognized everywhere. There are always controls of some kind, and drinking is never really integrated with the life of the society. However, at the same time alcohol is a very social drug, and sociability is a fundamental aspect of drinking. The sharing of food and drink—commensality and conviviality—is a universal aspect of human life, and this becomes more evident in Africa, I would say, than anywhere else. Starting from Ivan Karp’s (1980) study on the Iteso of western Kenya I developed this theme, drawing heavily on Georg Simmel’s ideas on sociability (Simmel 1949); but, as Simmel clearly recognized, sociability is a fragile thing. It is very easily broken, and drink-induced sociability is even more fragile, because alcohol intoxicates.

A: So that fact must have led you to an interest in intoxication?

JP: I have been fascinated by the notion of intoxication, or more generally altered states of consciousness, for a long time, and suggested various formulations to describe its character. The most elaborate formulation was in terms of unconscious psychic sets governing our automatic responses and unreflective actions. The idea was that their influence on behaviour is enhanced in altered states of consciousness (Partanen 1983). This seems to fit rather usefully with the results obtained from psychological experiments on the effects of alcohol, and my psychologist colleagues even obtained some experimental confirmation for the hypothesis that small doses of alcohol increased the strength of unconscious psychic sets. Well, this work was not continued. I am not a psychologist myself, and those Finnish psychologists I talked with were interested only in studying consciousness.

A: So any final conclusions from your African experience?

JP: The final theme was that African drinking presented a clear-cut contrast to the uses of alcohol in our modern world, and I characterized this contrast by introducing the notion of ‘heroic drinking’. My inspiration came from Alistair Macintyre’s idea of heroic societies (MacIntyre 1984). Heroic drinking for me means a kind of primordial pattern of drinking; it is a male affair. It is archaic, but also a persistent cultural form—there are still many uses for heroic drinking among contemporary young people: to assert their masculinity, for example. But on the whole, in comparison with premodern African societies, alcohol in our societies has become far more marginal. It is used widely as an instrument to manage social life and psychological stress but it is seldom the focus of group life, and drinking has to compete with many other interests and entertainments. Heroic drinking does not mix well with our technological environment, and heroic drinkers can be labelled alcoholics, new subjects for treatment or therapy—I cannot help thinking that drinking in our world is a somewhat old-fashioned habit. But of course, not all quaint habits can or should be abolished.

‘Heroic drinking for me means a kind of primordial pattern of drinking; it is a male affair. It is archaic, but also a persistent cultural form.’

A: What you are arguing is that heroic drinking has a much larger place in African that it would have, for instance, in Nordic societies, or certainly in, for instance, Italy or France.

JP: I would say so, yes.

A: How would you apply this to Russia for instance, and Russian drinking? Where does Russian drinking fit into this spectrum of heroic vs. modern drinking?

JP. Well, the drinking patterns in Russia are still very traditional, but I think there is now another dynamic working, because it is a kind of transitional society, and people use alcohol to deal with their problems in life.

A: Or Japan then, where does Japan fit in?

JP: Someone has called Japan a kind of outdoor museum for archaic drinking patterns. Drinking is a male affair, there is a very elaborate etiquette and drunkenness is tolerated—even policemen treat drunken people in the street well, and women are kind to their drunken husbands when they arrive home late at night. Anyway, I presented Sociability and Intoxication as my dissertation in 1991, obtaining my doctorate at the mature age of 54 years.

A: It was granted with the highest distinction, which was the first time in 30 years in sociology at Helsinki.

JP: That is right. I had not needed a degree as I had no academic ambitions, and I was totally happy with my position at the Institute. But my dissertation work was of some use when I took part later in a collaborative project on alcohol policies in developing societies (Room et al. 2002). My contribution to the final product, however, as one of the 12 authors, was very modest. Along the way I had been interested in sketching profiles of other countries or cities I had visited, trying to gain a kind of overview of the alcohol or drug situation. I have published articles or research notes on Denmark, the Soviet Union, Singapore, Japan and the drug scene in Rotterdam, where I had a very rewarding 1-month stay (Partanen 1998).This was in the Jellinekian tradition, one he pursued in the 1950s (Popham 1976). The point here is that alcohol or drug issues should not be cut off from the web in which they are embedded; one thing I have learned is that history is important. Naturally, this is something that can be learned much more systematically and with greater resources through international collaboration, as a joint project, such as the excellent ISACE (International Study on Alcohol Control Experiences) project (Mäkeläet al. 1981); and of course, WHO conducts country profiles.

A: Is there a problem with fitting national drinking behaviours into neat formats?

JP: Quite often it is the case that for purposes of comparison one has to categorize behaviours into a format, typically social–medical and problem-centred, whereas when I am on my own I can be much more sensitive to the historical and social context. In Denmark I emphasized the ideology of tolerance they have there, and in the Netherlands the traditions of Christian charity, merchant-like pragmatism and social engineering, which they have also shown in drug issues. In Japan I emphasized the peculiar gender roles. I do not think there is any developed country in the world where the worlds of men and women are as separate as in Japan. Japan has really been an interesting case for me; I have spent nearly a year there on four occasions, and tried to learn the language—although I have now forgotten all of it. It is still a mystery to me how such a highly developed society is able to deal so complacently with heavy male drinking (Partanen, in press).

DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

A: So, after your dissertation?

JP: Well, after that it was drugs, and that has been my main interest for the last 10 years now.

A: Was this again part of your general interest in consciousness and intoxication, or was it more that drugs were coming onto the scene in Finland?

JP: I was already interested in drug issues around 1970, when the first drug wave hit Finland, in much the same way as other western countries, but then the situation calmed down and other things arose. Since the 1990s, however, we have had a second drug wave: the prevalence of drug experiences, mainly cannabis of course, increased at the annual rate of 10%. Therefore, it became a significant topic and I have conducted some survey work, held several lecture series and written a number of articles in which I discussed the nature of the current drug problem and drug policies from a sociological point of view (e.g. Partanen 1998). The situation is certainly complex. There is AIDS; an increasing number of new synthetic drugs; increased consumption of tranquillizers and antidepressants; enlarging use of drugs in addicts’ maintenance programmes; and doping in sports—and now we have this generalized notion of dependence, including addiction to TV and the internet, eating disorders and compulsive gambling, and so on. In fact, Addiction once published a research note on addiction to carrots (Cerny & Cerny 1992)!

A: How would you like to see society deal with these problems?

JP: I do have my views on the situation, and the ways to deal with it. Some 20 years ago Kettil Bruun and Nils Christie pointed out the political uses of the drug problem—they termed it a ‘suitable enemy’ for the modern state (Christie & Bruun 2003). This makes sense, but I think it goes deeper than that. From a sociological point of view one of the most significant aspects of the current situation is the stark opposition between drug users, who are a minority, and the majority of the population who are definitely against drug use, and many countries favour somewhat repressive drug policies. I think it is not an exaggeration to call this prevailing attitude towards drugs ‘narcophobia’. There is a genuine cultural conflict here.

A: But there are multiple drugs?

JP: One has to recognize the multiplicity of the uses of drugs, and this does not depend only on the substance. One speaks of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs, whereas I would prefer ‘heavy’ and ‘light’. I think that would describe the quality of drug experiences more effectively. There is light use of heavy drugs, and heavy use of light drugs: if you start with a joint first thing in the morning and then continue throughout the day, that is heavy use of a light drug. In Finland my younger colleagues have conducted some empirical work distinguishing different patterns of use. There are well-to-do young people for whom drugs have become a regular feature of night life, and this seems to be true in every major city in Europe. However, for the overwhelming majority of them this is simply a period in their life; once they start a family and take on responsibilities they quit drugs, apart perhaps from some occasional use. That does not create very serious problems. But then there are these black holes of society created by social exclusion, where drug use is linked to criminality and all kinds of social or psychological problems. I would also say that there is a substantial amount of habitual use of both licit and illicit substances that remains invisible, as it does not create visible problems.

Another thing which is actually a little surprising is that alcohol has by no means vanished from the picture. Our surveys in Finland show that, and the studies of young people’s night life in a number of European cities also show that alcohol consumption at the level of binge drinking is linked typically with drug use.

A: So the ideology of the early hippie movement, or for that matter in the early rave culture, which was also anti-alcohol, does not really carry through in patterns of behaviour?

JP: That is right. I think this has not been given sufficient attention in empirical studies. I think one should always also include alcohol when studying drug use patterns, but the picture is by no means clear-cut. I recently read somewhere that the Portman Group, which represents the alcohol industry in England, is worried about drug use affecting the demand for alcohol. Well, in order to understand the nature of the addictions, old and new, I am very much in favour of some sociological thinking. I have recently been impressed by the work of a French sociologist, Alain Ehrenberg (2000). He is well known in France and some of his work has been translated into Italian and Spanish, but nothing into English. He is a very French sociologist. His basic view, in a nutshell, is that we now live in a society of individuals where everyone, irrespective of social position, has not only the right but also the duty to assert one’s individuality, to show initiative, to become socially visible, instead of performing a predetermined social role. Freedom has its price, however: uncertainty of life, feelings of insecurity, a heavy stress on the sense of identity. Accordingly, depression, a sense of powerlessness, has become the dominant form of mental problems in our societies, replacing the Freudian conflicts between ego and superego. Addictions are one way to cope with problems with identity—drugs are used as self-medication. But when an addict becomes hooked on a substance or an activity, he or she sinks into a more private world, ‘masturbates’ his or her individuality, loses a critical distance to oneself, and stops being a member of society. An addict is an anti-subject, and for Ehrenberg the drug problem essentially concerns citizenship rather than public health. Thus his thinking deviates in an interesting way from the dominant American way of understanding addictions, where the emphasis is upon lack of self-control and medical aspects. This is closer to the way the drug problem is understood in Asian societies.

A: You are making use of this work from the French tradition in something you have been writing?

JP: Well, I have written a presentation of Ehrenberg in Finnish.

A: Will we ever get rid of drugs?

JP: It is quite evident that we cannot get rid of drugs. We have to learn ways to deal with their use, and the penalization of drug use does not make sense. What one should do in drug policies is to recognize the different uses of drugs, and to estimate the risks related to them. One should also recognize the informal controls among the users themselves and in their immediate environment—family and work, etc.—and encourage these kinds of control instead of simply official controls. I think one should apply similar policies to drugs as are applied nowadays to sex. People may choose their own forms of sexual behaviour nowadays, there are no uniform norms for it. At the same time, we have become sensitive to compulsion and violence. I think that is good. In my view, however, the most serious drug problems are not addictions or other problems related to drug use in our societies. They are those created by organized international crime, because that affects not only individuals, but whole societies in the developing world—their economies and political structures, through corruption—and current efforts to deal with this are obviously not adequate. The most crucial aspect is money laundering—those in the illicit market have to get to use the profits somehow. But money laundering cannot be eliminated as long as the same system of financial transactions also serves governments and transnational enterprises. The only way to suppress international drug criminality would be to legalize all drugs, in order to eliminate the private profit motive, but of course this is a totally utopian thought in the present circumstances.

‘I think one should apply similar policies to drugs as are applied nowadays to sex. People may choose their own forms of sexual behaviour nowadays, there are no uniform norms for it. But at the same time we have become sensitive to compulsion and violence.’

LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References

A: So if you were being utopian, would you see an Alko for marijuana in Finland, a state corporation, and state stores?

JP: Why not, why not? Or leave it to the medical profession, allowing users obtain their supplies by prescription. But this will not happen tomorrow, no.

A: You are officially retired, but in fact still writing articles.

JP: Just little things, columns and poems. It is fun, but nothing very impressive.

A: And you have been doing some teaching?

JP: Until quite recently, yes, and I am very happy to keep a regular contact with my younger ex-colleagues. They are conducting, in my view, very good work—especially with regard to drugs—which is what I have been following most closely.

A: Do you have any general thoughts, looking back?

JP: How should I say it? The fact is I have always been a rather lazy person, not very productive. I have felt that it is quite enough to put in one-third of the day for work. There are so many other interesting things in life. On the whole my life has been easy; I wonder how fortunate I was in choosing my parents, but I have certainly been very fortunate in choosing the historical period in which I have lived. This period which the English historian, Eric Hobsbawm, has called ‘the Golden Age of Mankind’—roughly the 30 years after the Second World War—has really been fine for us.

A: Tell me a little about the other interesting things that you have pursued.

JP: Well, my last four winters spent in Paris were a nice experience and there is, of course, this traditional trio, Wein, Weib und Gesang, which in my case has meant red wine, lady friends and chamber music. But I would like to add at least gardening and sailing, and outdoor life more generally.

A: You are quite a serious gardener?

JP: Semi-serious.

A: So what are you growing in your garden this year?

JP: Well, it is a tiny garden, but—roses, that is what I have been growing.

A: So we expect a little show in 2 months or so.

JP: I would say in a month, for the first one. The white rose of Finland.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. STARTING OUT
  3. THE ORGANIZATION OF FINNISH ALCOHOL RESEARCH
  4. TWINS, RESTAURANTS AND MARXIST THEORY
  5. INTERNATIONALITY AND WORK IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
  6. HEROIC DRINKING
  7. DRUGS AS A MAIN INTEREST
  8. LIVING IN A GOLDEN AGE
  9. References
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