Sober as Deviant: The Stigma of Sobriety and How Some College Students "Stay Dry" on a "Wet" Campus

Nancy J. Herman-Kinney, David A. Kinney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Social scientists have conducted numerous studies on college students' binge drinking behavior. They have not, however, conducted any systematic studies of nondrinkers on college campuses. Our study focuses on the everyday experiences of nondrinking undergraduates who stay "dry" while living on "wet" campuses. We use the symbolic interactionist notions of identity work and deviance to show how nondrinkers employ a variety of stigma management strategies to avoid being labeled deviant. These strategies include the procurement of drinking props, fictive storytelling, alteration of personal appearance, concealment, disclosure, and capitulation. We extend the sociological study of identity work and deviance by documenting how nondrinkers experience and manage stigma and negotiate positive social and personal identities. Moreover, we apply the concepts of "negative deviants," "rate busters," and "positive deviants" to delineate how nondrinkers are viewed by different audiences on a "wet" campus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-103
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Contemporary Ethnography
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013


  • college students
  • nondrinkers
  • social and personal identity
  • stigma management techniques


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