A review by Phillip Taylor MBE, Richmond Green Chambers
Pubs, bars and clubs are social meeting places, which, in an ideal world, should be convivial and friendly. But as the authors of ‘Raising the Bar’ point out, nowhere is ideal, at least in Western culture – primarily the English speaking world -- where the consumption of alcohol is involved.
In his Forward, Alasdair Forysth from the Glasgow Centre for the Study of Violence observes that much violent or disorderly behaviour can be described as ‘alcohol-related’ and that the area where such violence and aggression appears to be the most obvious and the most public is the barroom environment.
This is an important book about an increasingly serious problem of aggression, violence and injury in and around public drinking establishments which, in an era of greater affluence and leisure, have become an essential component of the ‘nighttime economy’.
Authors, Kathryn Graham and Ross Homel have exhaustively researched the subject from a wealth of sources mainly in Canada, Australia and the UK pointing up the fact that the problem of alcohol-related violence leading to criminal behaviour is an international one.
The authors have aimed ultimately to provide directions and guidance for curtailing such violence through a variety of preventive and regulatory strategies, recognizing that the establishments concerned operate in diverse communities and cultures. Amid the diversity, however, there is one causative factor: alcohol abuse.
Graham & Homel offer interested readers the benefits of their 3 decades of research into the relationship between alcohol and violence. They’ve made a thorough, thoughtful and well substantiated analysis of the effects on behaviour of certain key factors: the drinking environment, staff behaviour and regulatory policies and practices, for example. Their work has had some considerable influence in formulating policies aimed at creating safer bars.
Their research methods centre on the practical, from direct observation and interviews with bar-room patrons and staff who have possibly been affected by bar-room violence either directly or indirectly. This is certainly a superior approach to the exclusively academic research project which relies on secondary sources and official statistics.
There are many real-life incidents featured, as well as case studies of how the problem has been tackled in various countries and the degrees of success achieved, for example, in community-based approaches or stricter – or more liberal – licensing schemes. The work will be most helpful for councillors and community groups grappling with new licensing legislation.
Possibly because of the subject matter, (on which most people cannot resist offering an opinion) ‘Raising the Bar’ is a very readable, indeed un-put-downable book. Apart from those already, mentioned, it should be required reading for anyone charged with the control, or management of this difficult problem: from police officers to premises managers though to medical and legal practitioners, policy makers, licensing authorities, government regulators and certainly, the producers and distributors of alcoholic beverages. Criminologists, sociologists and social commentators should find it equally interesting and instructive. I can away realizing that the swift half-full/half-empty arguments will continue to rage and the work helps describe, in nine chapters, the problem with little likelihood that we will get much change until attitudes change.