Flows and friction of alcohol in Cape Town


Mary Lawhon is a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities. An urban political ecologist, Mary combines natural and social sciences to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of the human-environment nexus in her work (which has appeared in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Environment and Planning A and Progress in Human Geography, among other places – see here). Her Antipode paper, ‘Flows, Friction, and the Sociomaterial Metabolization of Alcohol’, offers a novel lens through which to consider alcohol, viewing it as a sociomaterial hybrid. Studies of alcohol, Mary explains, typically focus on either its negative impacts on health and well-being or positive impacts on economic development, while policy debates focus on whether and how to control access. Using a case study of alcohol in Cape Town, her Antipode paper moves beyond these binaries to provide a more nuanced, grounded articulation of how alcohol flows and what inhibits its flow, and how these flows and encounters with friction shape sociability and harm in complex, indeterminate ways. Examining the distribution of power and agency, limitations of state regulation, willingness of community members to act outside of and with little fear of the law, and the specificity of alcohol as a highly desirable commodity which easily flows around artificial barriers, Mary casts some much needed light on the relationships, power and the (in)efficacy of policy efforts, suggesting the need to refocus debates. And rather than providing specific policy recommendations, her paper argues that a better understanding of flows and frictions can move the focus from alcohol control to reducing alcohol related harm.


Lawhon, M. Flows and friction of alcohol in Cape Town. (2012)

Flows and friction of alcohol in Cape Town

Published 1 January 2012