Smoking -Related Identity and Subculture

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This fieldwork took place outside the University of Wisconsin-Madison College library. It is regarded as a smoking and recreational area with garbage bins located surrounding the library entrance. Smokers take the garbage bins as ashtrays to discard their cigarette butts. Most people who smoke there are those who take breaks while studying at college library. It is noticeable that at times, smokers who are friends or maybe strangers will “unite” with two to seven people to smoke. This field study was taken between February 24th 2010 to March 24th with a couple of visits during typical weekdays and especially Sunday evenings. I interviewed and closely observed six participants; three were my Asian friends and three Americans students who described themselves as a “heavy smoker.” I conducted my interviews mostly during their smoking break, and many times I joined their smoking groups to watch them smoke and chat. It was an interesting experience to listen to the participants’ smoking stories. I found that for many of them, smoking plays an important part in the construction of who they are and many respondents integrate smoking as a way to affirm and express their self-image. As indicated by the following typical comments of my respondents: “Smoking makes me special and different from the crowd.” “Smoking makes me cool.” (Josh, Lizheng, Andrew). I can always feel a subtle message behind the reasons male respondents give for smoking - smoking projects a positive image of them as a tough guy and smoking makes them special. Female respondents also value smoking as a reflective construction about their image. Xiaoqian (from China Sichuan Province), indicates that smoking gives her a “hard” image. After our in-depth discussion, an interpretation for her particular “hard and strong” image is that she is trying to compete with males by doing everything they do. Her ideology may result from a deep-rooted conviction in Chinese culture that females have to match males and...
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