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Vol 39  No 5
Nov. 2, 2006


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Visiting PhD student from Norway wants to know
why some teens say no to alcohol

Rejecting booze

by Jeff Green

Hege Westgaard, a visiting folklore student from the University of Bergen in Norway, will spend the next several weeks at Memorial analyzing material for her PhD thesis. Her project centres around why some youth have chosen to remain abstinent from alcohol. (Photo by Chris Hammond)

Thanks to a unique exchange agreement with the University of Bergen, a Norwegian doctoral student is spending time at Memorial this fall trying to shed new light onto an all-too-familiar subject prevalent not just in Europe but also around the world – teens and alcohol.
While most researchers have been intrigued by why teens drink, Hege Westgaard, who is completing her PhD in folklore, has put a spin on her project. She’s fascinated by youth who have said no to booze in spite of increasing peer pressure, pop culture and the availability of alcohol to young people. In Norway, 95 per cent of youth experiment with alcohol by their late teens.

“In my research I interview both drinking and abstinent youths and try to find out how abstinent youths are perceived by drinking youths,” Ms. Westgaard said recently.

As part of her thesis, which is a cultural analytical study of abstinence and alcohol use among youths, Ms. Westgaard is also examining how these teens feel about going against the trend.

“As a cultural category, youth is affiliated with rebellion and experimenting and for some of the abstinent informants this does not apply to them,” she explained. “They are, however, very well aware of these notions of youth and that they, to some extent, do not fit into the category. Part of my project is to explore how they negotiate, handle and understand this discrepancy between their behaviour and the expectations towards how their age group behaves.”

Ms. Westgaard said she wanted to spend time studying here at Memorial because of the first-rate reputation of the university’s Folklore department. Until mid-December, she’ll analyze her research, look for new angles for her project and visit an undergraduate class to discuss it with the students. She’s also looking to hear from other researchers interested in youth culture, research on age, alcohol and drug research and narrativity and language.

“Coming from Europe and Norway where folkloristics is practically extinct as a separate discipline, it is also nice to be a visitor at a big folklore department where folkloristics is the main thing,” she said.

Focusing on teens that don’t drink isn’t the only thing making her PhD thesis special, added Ms. Westgaard. As a research on teens and alcohol, she believes her project is unique because she’s taken a qualitative approach to the subject matter, which is not so common in research on teens and alcohol use, but the main approach in folklore research.

“It takes into account youth’s own narratives, notions and perceptions of alcohol use and abstinence and it tries to understand the cultural significance of alcohol use and abstinence among youth instead of counting how many litres young Norwegians drink per year and how many kids drink and how many do not,” she said. “It views alcohol use as a cultural phenomenon and not only as a social problem.”

To contact Ms. Westgaard about her youth and alcohol research, e-mail hege.westgaard@ikk.uib.no.

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