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Everyone Is NOT Doing It

Abstinence and Personal Identity

Labels like vegan, virgin, or nonsmoker get thrown around to identify forms of abstinence, but for many abstainers such labels are also proud declarations of who they are. Setting aside the moral debates and psychological assessments surrounding abstinence, Jamie L. Mullaney here asks why it is that the act of not doing something plays such a crucial role in the formation of our personal identities. 

Based on interviews with individuals who abstain from habits as diverse as sex, cigarettes, sugar, and technology, Everyone Is NOT Doing It identifies four different types of abstainers: quitters; those who have never done something and never will; those who haven’t done something yet, but might in the future; and those who are not doing something temporarily. Mullaney assesses the commonalities that bind abstainers, as well as how perceptions of abstinence change according to social context, age, and historical era. In contrast to such earlier forms of abstinence as social protest, entertainment, or an instrument of social stratification, not doing something now gives people a more secure sense of self by offering a more affordable and manageable identity in a world of ever-expanding options.

216 pages | 1 line drawing, 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Sociology: General Sociology, Individual, State and Society


Everyone Is NOT Doing It offers an enjoyable meditation on the nature of abstinence—what it is, what it means, and what it signifies. Here, Jamie Mullaney gets a variety of people to talk candidly about all kinds of abstinence, how and why they do it, and its placement in their lives. As a result, she makes us aware of commonalities we all share with a wide and diverse set of abstainers.”--Daniel F. Chambliss, Hamilton College


Daniel F. Chambliss | Daniel F. Chambliss

Everyone Is NOT Doing It operates from a fascinating and paradoxical idea: how do human beings talk about not doing things? Jamie Mullaney asks how not-doing can be so full and self-reflective, and how abstinence helps narrate absence into the fullness of identity. Among her several revelations is that the decision to withhold from doing something builds its very narrative scaffolding out of that absence. The result is a fantastic contribution to the study of how identity is constituted and recounted.”--Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Swarthmore College

Robin Wagner-Pacifici | Robin Wagner-Pacifici

"Mullaney’s writing is clear and compelling, which is especially noteworthy given the dearth of terms available to articulate the constructs and processes associated with abstinence. . . . A valuable contribution to understanding abstinence, particularly its longitudinaol course, contribution to identity, and enactment in social situations."

Michael J. Stevens | Contemporary Psychology

"Mullaney’s writing is large and looming. Her book is clear and often entertaiing, and she writes her repondents with confidence and intimacy. . . . Deviance theorists with microsociological predilections may find this a refreshing read. . . . Postmodern social theorists and indeed anyone who studies identity  and the self will also likely find Mullaney’s book important and evocative."

Staci Newmahr | Qualitative Sociology

"Mullaney’s elegant prose and her abundance of materials drawn from linguistics, philosophy, history, and religious studies, make [the book] a satisfying consideration of the topic and an important contribution to the literature on identity formation."

Micki McGee | American Journal of Sociology

Table of Contents

Part I: The Social Shape of Abstinence
One / Seeing Not-Doing: Time, Place, and Language
Two / Historical Frames of Abstinence
Three / Contemporary Abstainers
Four / "You Gotta Run the Whole Tape": Pathways to Abstinence
Part II: Doing Not-Doing
Five / Determining What Counts: Abstinence Thresholds
Six / Fire Walking
Seven / Fence Building
Eight / Negotiating Abstinence Strategies
Nine / Verbal Performances of Abstinence

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