Smoke gets in your eyes: what is sociological about cigarettes?

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    Contemporary public health approaches increasingly draw attention to the unequal social distribution of cigarette smoking. In contrast, critical accounts emphasize the importance of smokers’ situated agency, the relevance of embodiment and how public health measures against smoking potentially play upon and exacerbate social divisions and inequality. Nevertheless, if the social context of cigarettes is worthy of such attention, and sociology lays a distinct claim to understanding the social, we need to articulate a distinct, positive and systematic claim for smoking as an object of sociological enquiry. This article attempts to address this by situating smoking across three main dimensions of sociological thinking: history and social change; individual agency and experience; and social structures and power. It locates the emergence and development of cigarettes in everyday life within the project of modernity of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It goes on to assess the habituated, temporal and experiential aspects of individual smoking practices in everyday lifeworlds. Finally, it argues that smoking, while distributed in important ways by social class, also works relationally to render and inscribe it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)882-897
    Number of pages16
    JournalSociological Review
    Issue number4
    Early online date22 Aug 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


    • Cigarettes
    • Smoking
    • Experiences of everyday life
    • Historical sociology
    • Social class


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