Staying Sober in Mexico City

Staying Sober in Mexico City

Stanley Brandes
Copyright Date: 2002
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/709058
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  • Book Info
    Staying Sober in Mexico City
    Book Description:

    Staying sober is a daily struggle for many men living in Mexico City, one of the world's largest, grittiest urban centers. In this engaging study, Stanley Brandes focuses on a common therapeutic response to alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), which boasts an enormous following throughout Mexico and much of Latin America.

    Over several years, Brandes observed and participated in an all-men's chapter of A.A. located in a working class district of Mexico City. Employing richly textured ethnography, he analyzes the group's social dynamics, therapeutic effectiveness, and ritual and spiritual life. Brandes demonstrates how recovering alcoholics in Mexico redefine gender roles in order to preserve masculine identity. He also explains how an organization rooted historically in evangelical Protestantism has been able to flourish in Roman Catholic Latin America.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79651-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xx)

    A California physician once cautioned me that there exist two drugs which are exceptionally powerful, but omnipresent and readily available: caffeine and aspirin. Both are ingested daily with very little caution or forethought. If they came on the market today, he claimed, they would require FDA approval. The problem is that they are socially acceptable, a fully integrated part of American and European lifestyle, and therefore far beyond the point of governmental control.

    There is a third drug, alcohol, which is also ubiquitous, potentially dangerous, tightly woven into the social fabric, and only partly controlled. Unlike caffeine and aspirin, about...

  5. 1. MORAL SUPPORT IN MEXICO CITY
    (pp. 1-24)

    Life in Mexico City can be daunting. Although estimates of the city’s population vary, demographers invariably place the metropolitan area at more than twenty million inhabitants. That means that Mexico City shares with Saõ Paulo, Brazil, the dubious honor of being the largest city in the world. The city is located in a natural basin, the Valley of Mexico, which is ringed by a chain of lofty volcanoes that are often snow-capped. Throughout much of the year, automobiles and industry produce noxious gasses, which become trapped inside the basin and hover close to ground level, creating what some environmentalists consider...

  6. 2. RELIGIOUS ADAPTATIONS IN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
    (pp. 25-52)

    Any scholar who begins to delve into a topic suddenly sees evidence of it everywhere. It is as if blinders had been removed; an automatic self-censoring mechanism inside the brain suddenly ceases to function. This was my experience with Alcoholics Anonymous. Wherever I traveled in Mexico, from the largest cities to small rural communities, I encountered the unmistakable logo with its double A encased within a triangle. In 1996, I had been carrying out research in the little town of Tzintzuntzan for nearly thirty years. And yet, until I began the study of Moral Support, I was unaware that the...

  7. 3. MEETING AND MOVING
    (pp. 53-77)

    Alcoholics Anonymous is an acephalous organization which reaches its maximum expression in the context of its meetings. According to one standard definition, A.A. meetings are “relatively formal, quasiritualized therapeutic sessions run by and for any alcoholics in the community who wish to attend them” (Leach et al., 1969:509). Whether in Mexico or elsewhere, the meeting is the social and restorative foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous. The meeting allows members to unite on a regular, predictable basis for the express purpose of achieving and maintaining sobriety. According to A.A. precepts, sobriety is impossible to attain without meetings. Ideally, they become a fully...

  8. 4. STORYTELLING
    (pp. 78-98)

    The central activity of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is speech. Any worldwide survey of A.A. would uncover considerable variation in terms of criteria for speaker selection, the rules of speech, and the meanings of oral presentations to both speaker and audience. The meeting format—theautonomía, as the men in Moral Support call it—is what determines the rules of speech that prevail in each group. Some groups invite guest speakers from other groups to present lengthy personal stories about recovery from alcoholism; this presentation is followed by a question-answer period. Other groups, like those I witnessed in Tzintzuntzan, permit...

  9. 5. GENDER AND THE CONSTRUCTION OF MANHOOD
    (pp. 99-130)

    The men of Moral Support strongly believe that attendance at meetings is the only way to control alcohol addiction. They therefore devote great effort to the never-ending task of preserving and expanding member participation. As we have just seen, the assertion of equality in personal stories motivates at least some of the men to continue coming to meetings.Historialespromote a feeling of mutual identification among the men. Over time they come to see the A.A. meeting as a space in which they can safely vent their thoughts and problems. But mutual identification is not the only mechanism by which...

  10. 6. BLURRED BOUNDARIES AND THE EXERCISE OF SOCIAL CONTROL
    (pp. 131-156)

    In theory, it should be possible to state how many members belong to Moral Support, or, for that matter, any other Alcoholics Anonymous group. However, precision is almost impossible to achieve. For one thing, Alcoholics Anonymous, as its name implies, tries to preserve the anonymity of its members. Hence, it retains a roster of affiliated groups rather than membership lists per se. Each group has its own procedure for recording member attendance. At Moral Support, the moderator writes the names of the evening’s speakers in a log, so as to help future moderators choose speakers. But the log only records...

  11. 7. ILLNESS AND RECOVERY
    (pp. 157-178)

    The men of Moral Support accept what has long been the most widely accepted definition of alcoholism, that is, alcoholism as a disease. There can be no doubt that excessive alcohol consumption causes disease and contributes significantly, through accidents, to mortality rates. At the turn of the previous century, Mexican pro-temperance physicians were well aware of the potentially injurious effects of alcohol, to which they attributed virtually every physical and social malady. Consider, for example, the introductory words of Dr. Fernando Ponce (1911:3), who wrote a long book on the subject.

    Thirty years practicing in the medical profession has taught...

  12. 8. SOBRIETY AND SURVIVAL
    (pp. 179-200)

    As early as 1977, Mary Taylor (1977:178) observed that “Self-help groups are proliferating in American society.” If that statement could be made a generation ago, it is even more apt at the turn of the twenty-first century. A number of these groups, such as those devoted to smoking, overeating, gambling, and child abuse, are twelve-step programs explicitly modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous. Support groups organized around the concerns of political and ethnic minorities, as well as those based on sexual orientation, also rely on techniques and therapeutic insights developed by A.A. “What all these groups have in common,” states Taylor (ibid.),...

  13. Appendix A. THE TWELVE STEPS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS/LOS DOCE PASOS DE ALCOHÓLICOS ANÓNIMOS
    (pp. 201-202)
  14. Appendix B. THE TWELVE TRADITIONS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS/LAS DOCE TRADICIONES DE ALCOHÓLICOS ANÓNIMOS
    (pp. 203-204)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 205-210)
  16. REFERENCES CITED
    (pp. 211-230)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 231-240)