An Ethnographic Perspective of ISU Students’ Decision to Drink Bottled Water: A College Drinking Problem?

Maria Cristina Morales Munoz, Johanna Haas*, Illinois State University

Full manuscript: http://www.kon.org/urc/v10/munoz.html

Abstract: This research used an ethnography to analyze the consumption practice of bottled water at Illinois State University. Students were surveyed, interviewed, and observed to better understand the cultural meaning behind branding bottled water. The data revealed habit, convenience, hyperindividualism, and health to be the most crucial reasons students at ISU consume bottled water. The purpose of this study is to support the decrease of bottled water consumption at collages by encouraging collegiate level institutions to educate students about their own consumption practices.

Introduction We usually picture anthropologists toughing it out in a distant country while studying the lives of indigenous people. Anthropology students find themselves thinking an ethnography done in their town or home country is boring or unimportant to the research community; however, this is not the case. Ethnography is a dynamic, introspective, and interdisciplinary area that allows the researcher and the group being studied to reflect on their respective realities. So, although my fieldwork lacks the exotic and foreign, it is an indigenous ethnography allowing me to question the ordinary and familiar. This article began with a stroll around campus watching other college students drink out of plastic bottles and canteens. It was then that I wondered why some of my peers chose expendable over reusable and why some preferred free water while others purchased water. Most college students are notoriously known for having little income and staying in perpetual debt. Yet many students, regardless of their low-income lifestyle, willingly buy and consume bottled water. This study sought explanations for a behavior I have observed but never questioned until recently: drinking bottled water. The purpose of this research is to encourage college level institutions to educate students about their own consumption practices through investigating bottled water as a commodity and understanding students’ perceptions of bottled water at ISU. This article discusses the methodology of this ethnography, moving to the process of commodification, which leads to alienability and hyperindividualism. Followed by a discussion of the misconceptions surrounding bottled water as well as the connection between privatization, brand preference, and sign value. Most importantly, this study revealed habit, convenience, hyperindividualism, and health to be the most crucial reasons students at ISU consume bottled water.

Read the full manuscript: http://www.kon.org/urc/v10/munoz.html