Sciences sociales et santé


The caring quality of alcohol. Ethnography of a care relationship in a medical shelter for homeless people Volume 41, issue 2, Juin 2023

* Sociologue, Chaire PUBLICS des politiques sociales, laboratoire de sciences sociales Pacte (UMR 5194), Université Grenoble Alpes, France

Based on an ethnography, this article analyzes how the alcohol consumptions of a homeless person are qualified and managed by the professionals of a medical shelter according to their caring quality. This means that consumptions are valued according to their consequences, both anticipated and observed, on the health condition of the drinker and on the care in which he is involved. If professionals consider alcohol consumption as a support for the patient’s access to care, they can arrange a place for it in the institution; if they define it as a problem, they maintain a regulatory ban and are likely to try to separate the drinker from this addiction. The patient may agree with the qualifications of the professionals or dispute them. In either case, judgments and practices regarding alcohol are not arbitrary or natural. They are continually re-evaluated, confirmed or revised during the course of the care relationship. This article sheds light on the moral tensions that run through care practices and reexamines the place of the homeless patient in the care relationship.