Researcher hits student parties, but on the job

Victoria University of Wellington anthropology PhD student Ellan Baker is hanging out at Dunedin...
Victoria University of Wellington anthropology PhD student Ellan Baker is hanging out at Dunedin student flats, researching the drinking cultures and consumption of RTDs among young Dunedin people. PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
Being ignored at large parties would make most people feel a little isolated, but Ellan Baker is welcoming the treatment.

The Victoria University of Wellington third-year anthropology PhD student is doing her thesis on young adults’ drinking cultures, and is sitting in on flat parties to see inside the lifestyles of 18-22-year-olds.

She has been taking notes on her phone as young flatmates and friends go about alcohol-related activities, such as pre-drinking, buying alcohol, and attending drinks engagements or parties — all in a bid to record their perspectives and experiences with drinking.

Miss Baker said she previously graduated with an honours degree in anthropology at the University of Otago, and still lives in Dunedin, doing her PhD via distance learning.

She said voicing the perspectives of young adults was crucial, especially in the conversation on alcohol and their views on health and wellbeing.

"My PhD is part of a larger Marsden-funded research project, looking at the digital marketing of alcohol, vape and tobacco to young people and rangatahi.

"I’m interested in non-commercial drinking spaces and ready-to-drink alcohol products.

"I’m keen to understand the role these spaces and products have in young adults’ drinking practices.

"The reporting on alcohol and young people is flooded with complex debates from health bodies, regulatory stakeholders and the alcohol industry.

"There’s a need for young people’s perspectives to be louder in this space."

She said young New Zealanders experienced a lot of alcohol-related harm, and she believed there was a need to make sure the country developed more harm-reduction policies and solutions that resonated with young adults.

It was important to recognise the complex motivations, social pleasures and broader contexts that lead young adults to drink alcohol in "hazardous and not so hazardous" ways.

She said very little research explored non-commercial drinking spaces or ready to drink (RTD) beverages specifically, and she hoped that by tapping into a small part of the issues, it would compel further research that was more enlightening of young adults’ views.

"RTDs are a growing industry that is largely unregulated, despite increasing research that shows it is a popular drink for minors and people who are ‘learning to drink’.

"In Dunedin, there is already a large body of committed and underfunded agencies, and community members — including young adults — who are doing amazing work to make Dunedin’s drinking cultures safer.

"I hope my research can support these efforts."

Asked if there would be any drinking on the job, Miss Baker said no.

"Not at all — for two reasons.

"I’m there to observe, not participate, and I need to be on to it.

"And also because going sober to events is OK."