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Response to Review no. 106

I appreciate this full, careful reading of Liquid Pleasures and Matthew Hilton’s many complimentary remarks. They leave me little to say except to comment on some general points which he raises.

The first is about the structure of the book, which consists of separate chapters on the histories of the principal drinks consumed in modern Britain (water, milk, tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer, wine and spirits): there is a brief Introduction and a rather longer Conspectus. I debated hard about the structure. The alternative was to attempt to treat all drinks together within historical periods from the Restoration onwards, but I ultimately rejected this approach which, I believe, would have resulted in repetition, confusion and frustration for a reader who wished to follow through the history of a particular drink. A further objection to a more synthetic treatment is that there is no single, overarching interpretative framework which covers all drinks, as, for example, in Goodman, Lovejoy and Sherratt’s Consuming Habits. Drugs in History and Anthropology, to which Hilton refers. Drinks fall into three major categories -alcoholic (beer, wines and spirits), caffeine (tea and coffee) and “other” (water, milk and most soft drinks): the first two groups are linked by possessing psychoactive properties, and there are numerous references to this in my text, but the third remains discreet. In the end, the treatment by separate chapters on each drink and a Conspectus which drew together general interpretations of change seemed both logical and inevitable. (Incidentally, Consuming Habits also follows this structure.)

The second main point relates to my explanatory position. Hilton rightly says that I take a predominantly “materialist” view of change which concentrates on economic, social and political (and, to a lesser extent, physiological) determinants. I might prefer the term “materialist/developmental (as in Goody, Mennell, Mintz and others) which gives greater weight to historical perspectives, but it is true that I do not give as much emphasis to non-material and structural explanations as cultural historians might wish. This is not the place for an extended academic debate, except to say that in my own view the dichotomy between materialist and culturalist approaches is a largely false one, and that some fusion of the two dimensions of consumption history is possible and desirable. If I have given more space to one than to the other, that is where I stand, but I claim that I have not ignored cultural factors, which are discussed throughout the text. The paragraph in the Conspectus (pp.188-9) which Dr. Hilton quotes, was intended merely to draw these together, not to introduce new material or concepts at this stage.

He notes some other areas which merit further exploration, including issues of gender and health and the important role of advertising. I fully agree. There was material at hand to do so -indeed, to write separate monographs on each drink, as Hilton observes – but for the publisher’s constraint of length and my own preference for a survey of a neglected area of consumption history in a single volume. There is scope and need for much more, and I await the contributions of other scholars with great interest.