SSAC to present research at CDP Lisbon conference

September will see three members of the SSAC team travel to Lisbon, Portugal to take part in the biennial Contemporary Drug Problems conference. Recognised as one of the world’s most innovative and challenging international forums for social research on drug use, the conference will allow SSAC staff to showcase a range of projects underway in the program and engage in critical debate on key issues in the field. In the conference program are three SSAC presentations. PortugalThe first presentation, to be given by Dr Kiran Pienaar, explores lived experiences of alcohol and other drug addiction or dependence through in-depth qualitative interviews with people who see themselves as affected by it. Taking these personal accounts as the empirical focus, and drawing on Karen Barad’s diffractive approach, with its emphasis on the material effects of specific concepts and knowledge-making practices, the presentation will subject the concept of addiction itself to critical inquiry. In doing so, it will draw attention to a pronounced, seemingly paradoxical, theme in the data: although people rely on familiar dichotomies to articulate their accounts of addiction (e.g. volition/compulsion, order/chaos, stasis/change), their lived experiences far exceed the absolute differences that dichotomies presume. This points to the conceptual vagueness of addiction and raises questions about the coherence of the dichotomies on which it relies for meaning. It also suggests that addiction can never be enacted (or imitated, or repeated) faithfully; like any phenomenon, it is remade through its everyday enactment, or in Barad’s terms, it is ‘diffracted’. When addiction is remade, so too are the subjectivities of those who consider themselves to be experiencing it. In considering how addiction is differentially constituted through people’s lived experiences, we make some observations on how the category of addiction constitutes subjects, but always imperfectly. In the second presentation, Dr Robyn Dwyer will discuss new research that critically examines addiction screening and diagnostic tools, focusing on the scientific legitimacy claims made about these tools. Screening and diagnostic tools are a key element in the expert knowledge-making through which addiction is defined in society and individuals are labelled drug dependent or ‘addicts’. They also form the basis for epidemiological research that aims to count and map the incidence and prevalence of addiction/dependence. Specifically, the presentation will critically examine the scientific validation techniques applied to these substance addiction tools. Using the work of Ian Hacking, the analysis involves two steps. First it will critique the methodological validation processes on their own terms. Second, it will critique validation as a concept in itself. In unpacking in detail the legitimacy of the tools, the aim of the paper is to open up for further scrutiny the processes by which they go about making (rather than merely reflecting) the disease of addiction, and individuals who are diagnosed or counted using the tools. The third presentation, given by Professor Suzanne Fraser, will explore policy maker and service provider understandings of addiction in two countries: Australia and Canada. It is by now widely acknowledged that alcohol and other drug (AOD) policy is developed within complex networks of social, economic and political forces. One of the key ideas informing these forces is the notion of the ‘public’ or ‘publics’ of AOD problems and the policy solutions to which they relate. To date, however, very little scholarly attention has been paid to notions of the public in AOD policy making. This presentation will explore the role of the public in organising and shaping the work of those tasked to produce and implement AOD policy: policy makers and service providers. Drawing on the work of Michael Warner, the presentation will argue that public opinion and public understandings of AOD use are commonly cited as key agents – whether facilitators or impediments – in the development and implementation of good policies. Yet precisely how publics should be understood, what they are and what they do, does not appear to receive much attention. The paper will explore this issue in detail, arguing that publics are generally presented in the interviews as pre-existing groups who need to be managed: contained or educated, to allow policy to proceed. The presentation will conclude by offering an alternative way of understanding publics – as emergent – that creates room for different engagements in the policy process, and in principle at least, greater scope for the development and implementation of innovative AOD policy. Details: Kiran Pienaar, Suzanne Fraser, Renata Kokanovic, David Moore, Carla Treloar and Ella Dilkes-Frayne, Beyond the volition/compulsion binary: A diffractive reading of personal accounts of alcohol and other drug (AOD) addiction Robyn Dwyer and Suzanne Fraser, Addiction screening and diagnostic tools: ‘refuting’ and ‘unmasking’ claims to legitimacy Suzanne Fraser, kylie valentine and Kate Seear, Emergent publics of alcohol and other drug policy making