Anthropological observations in an Australian pub

man hands love people

Before COVID 19 impeded our lives, I decided to observe social interactions within a semi-rural pub in outer-east Melbourne, Australia. The pub itself is situated in what is classified as a low socio-economic area and its patrons consist mainly of middle-aged, ‘working-class’ people. The pub is somewhat of a hub to which ‘locals’ congregate for a meal and social enjoyment. After observing the behaviour and interactions of these people for some time, I concluded that both the pub staff and its patrons contribute to treating the venue as an extension of their homes. I support this assertion through the consideration of such things as clothing, social interactions, and environmental decor.

The immediate feeling I had walking into this pub was that it was aiming to replicate the family home. There were comfortable couches, a fireplace, booths for eating, tall tables for drinking, a pool table, betting area, and multiple television sets dotted around the room. The seating, I noticed, seemed to promote the males congregating around the casual drinking area, whilst the female groups gravitated towards the booth eating area. The provision of multiple television sets within the pub allowed both lone diners to be entertained, and other conversations to be occasionally punctuated by comments regarding the television’s content.

The layout of the pub caused people to be quite mobile within its confines. That is, as people went to the bar to order drinks and meals, their ability to mingle with other individuals and groups seemed to be optimised. This ability seemed to add to the air of familiarity and informality promoted by the pub and enjoyed by patrons.

One of the first things I noticed, when I started my observation, was the dress code of the patrons. This was not a place considered worthy of ‘dressing up.’ Indeed, many patrons seemed to come in whatever they dressed themselves during the day. Many males came in their work clothes which, since the area is dominated by tradespeople, included fluorescent shirts, dirty pants, tracksuit pants, caps, and muddy work boots. Many seemed not to have considered washing their hands before dining. Women, alternatively, whilst seeming to have taken a little more care with their appearance, nonetheless attended the pub with little or no makeup, with most happy to wear jeans and jumpers; some not even feeling the need to remove their coat whilst dining. Indeed, comfort seemed to be the overarching consideration whilst attending this pub – well ahead of any issues surrounding style or sexual attraction.

Regarding behaviour and social interactions, I noticed that upon arrival at the pub, people immediately proceeded to the bar even before securing a table. I found it interesting to note that with a heterosexual couple entering the bar, the male would initially stay with the female then soon seek a table, leaving the female to order and then deliver drinks to him. I could not help but think of an abstract link of the pub bar resembling the domestic kitchen where, in the latter’s case, it’s traditionally been considered the woman’s domain from where she should deliver drinks and meals to her famished male partner.

Within the pub area itself, there seemed to be no self-imposed restrictions placed upon people’s level of swearing, the loudness of conversations, laughter, or even singing. Indeed, the combination of people’s conversations (both within their immediate groups and across the pub), along with the noises of phones ringing and television shows, made me shudder at how loud the area probably gets when it reaches its capacity. But no one seemed to mind; rather, this level of noise seemed to reflect a relaxed atmosphere in which many things were tolerated and accepted in good humour.

How they spoke to others within their immediate group, others with whom they recognised within the pub, and with staff members, evidenced the sense of familiarity people felt in this environment. I noticed everyone, almost without exception, either lingered at the bar to have a brief conversation with staff, or ensured they said goodbye to them when leaving the pub. In turn, staff members seemed familiar with most patrons and addressed many by name. They were also happy to briefly chat with one another behind the bar, have a non-alcoholic drink, as well as have their own meals whilst sitting at the bar – all in full view of the public.

Whilst I noticed such things as the role of gender in the pub, from mainly women ordering at the bar whilst the men waited at the table, to the prevalence of male-orientated shows on the television sets, the most interesting perception I had was the attempt by the pub to replicate ‘the home’ and the patron’s willing adherence to these parameters. I could see this not only in patron’s clothing and social interactions, but also in the ambience and facilities provided by the pub. This aspect made me think of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theories surrounding traditions of distinction. Looking at the specific area of dining, Bourdieu contended that, for the ruling classes, there is a refusal to acknowledge a division between home and the exterior,[1] hence their relentless persistence in following strict rules of social etiquette both within and outside the home. Alternatively, the working classes, Bourdieu claims, see the home as the “one realm of freedom”[2]  where “there will not be self-imposed controls, constraints, and restrictions…”[3] As a result, the working classes behave in one way at home, and in another when dining in public.

I could not but think these Australian working-class diners were perhaps, conversely, an anomaly to Bourdieu’s theory: that they actually saw no distinction between home and the pub as evidenced by tangible and social aspects of their presentation of themselves to the outside world via this pub setting.

In conclusion, this observational exercise of a semi-rural Australian pub led me to contend that this venue was a place in which patrons could easily, and with familiarity, dine out without having to substantially amend their behaviour or dress code. Through the observation of dining, it seems that, contrary to Bourdieu’s theories of distinction, the patrons of this pub deem it unnecessary to distinguish between the familiarity of their home and the outside world. They simply replicate it.


Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. London:                              

     Routledge, 1984.

[1]      Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste (London: Routledge, 1984), 196.

[2]      Ibid,. 195.

[3]      Ibid., 195.

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