• Public space;
  • disorder;
  • ideological dilemma;
  • incivility

Drawing on research in urban sociology, cultural geography, and social psychology, this paper explores some of the moral rules that govern social relations in public places. In particular, we consider how certain practices become classified as everyday incivilities—infractions of the moral order that sustains public life. In order to develop this notion, we draw illustrations from an ongoing research project that is investigating social attitudes towards “street drinking,” an activity that has led to the creation of “alcohol-free zones” in over 100 British cities during the past decade. As an emergent theme, this research has suggested that the classification of street drinking as either acceptable or unacceptable conduct is contingent upon the social construction of public space that users invoke. This theme is discussed in the context of wider struggles over citizenship and social control in the public domain—struggles manifest within “ideological dilemmas” (Billig et al., 1988) over the limits of free conduct, the tension between open and closed public spaces, and the attempt to distinguish “admissible” from “inadmissible” publics.