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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Problem drinking, gambling and eating – three problems, one understanding? A qualitative comparison between French and Finnish social workers

Culture is often used as a wildcard in cross-cultural studies. This article proposes a more diverse understanding of culture, as layered from “deep structures” towards institutional arrangements. It analyses which cultural levels are involved in Finnish and French social workers’ understanding of problem drinking, gambling and eating.
A stimulated focus group method (Reception Analytical Group Interview) RAGI was applied to eight groups of Finnish and five groups of French social workers not specialised in addiction. The interviews were analysed with a semiotic approach.

Finnish social workers understand problem drinking, gambling and eating as rooted in society and harming the social environment. It is the individual’s responsibility to solve the problem. French social workers conceptualise only problem eating similar to problem drinking as being caused by an individual defect. They identify problem gambling as a social issue.

The results imply that both the institutional context and structures deeper in culture influence how we conceptualise excessive behaviours. This shows the usefulness of a layered concept of culture. The article recommends caution in using “addiction” as an umbrella concept for all kinds of excessive behaviours, as the perception of each problem depends not only on culture, but on the different cultural levels. Problem gambling in particular seems to evoke multiple understandings.

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