This year the international Society for Social Studies of Science annual conference will be held for the first time in Sydney, Australia. Entitled ‘4S Sydney: TRANSnational STS’, the conference will foreground science and technology studies (STS). The event is a key one for a growing number of Australian alcohol and other drug researchers whose work has long drawn on concepts and methods found in STS. Among the sessions to make up the conference will be one dedicated to research underway in the SSAC program. Entitled ‘Investigating drug transformations through an ontopolitical lens’ the session will ask how STS insights might inspire us to reframe alcohol and other drug consumption research. Specifically, we will investigate what we call ‘ontopolitically-oriented’ approaches to alcohol and other drug consumption, considering the ways they can reformulate conventions of researching and governing drugs, and their implications for alcohol and other drug issues. Programmed for Saturday 1 September, 4:00 to 5:30pm, the session will consist of four papers exploring different aspects of ‘ontopolitically-oriented’ research:
- Suzanne Fraser will propose a set of features of ontopolitically-oriented research and explore how she is mobilising them in her research;
- Kate Seear will explore what an ontopolitically-oriented approach to legal practice might mean for drug law reform;
- Renae Fomiatti will offer an ontopolitically-oriented approach to testosterone to better analyse the multiple forces motivating and mediating men’s performance and image-enhancing drug consumption;
- Adrian Farrugia will present an ontopolitically-oriented approach to the forms of interpersonal care that can emerge when people administer take-home naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses.
According to SSAC Program leader Professor Suzanne Fraser:
SSAC researchers have been mobilising STS insights for novel explorations of alcohol and other drug consumption issues for some years now and the 4S Conference promises to be a great international forum to share our research and learn from others in the field.
Presentation abstracts can be found below. To explore the whole conference program, go to: https://4s2018sydney.org/.
SESSION: Investigating drug transformations through an ontopolitical lens
Doing ontopolitically-oriented research: Investigating and enacting lives of substance
Professor Suzanne Fraser
Addiction has long attracted intense scholarly, policy and media attention. Despite this, little systematically collected knowledge exists on the experiences of people who consider themselves affected by it. This presentation will discuss a research project that set out to generate new knowledge on these lived experiences, and in doing so, to produce a web site (livesofsubstance.org) presenting accounts of such experiences in video, audio and text format. The aim of this presentation will not be to report on these findings or on the website per se, however. Instead it will examine the project from the point of view of its ontological politics. As I will argue, the project and its outcomes were fundamentally inspired by the insight that research not only explores and describes realities, it actively constitutes the realities it explores, playing a direct role in reconstituting realities through its conduct, outcomes and communications. I adopt the term ontopolitically-oriented research to describe this approach. My analysis will focus on the project’s methods, describing the ways it devised and implemented methods best able to articulate its aims, and the key discussions and steps involved in ensuring these methods were as academically rigorous as they were ontopolitically attuned. Specific areas of consideration will include: the methodological performativity of naming, the ontological implications of recruitment, and the liabilities and limits of ‘experience’ and ‘representation’. In concluding, the presentation will propose a set of features of ontopolitically-oriented research, as well as some observations on the steps, obstacles, priorities and pitfalls of ontopolitically-oriented research.
Assigning, advocating, addicting: Law, drugs and STS
Associate Professor Kate Seear
Alcohol and other drug studies have undergone an ‘ontological turn’ in recent years, inspired by ideas from Science and Technology Studies (STS). Separately, through the work of scholars such as Bruno Latour and Kyle McGee there has been an increasing interest in the use of STS concepts to study the law (or ‘assignation’, as Latour now prefers). Despite growing interest in the application of STS to the study of alcohol and other drug ‘addiction’, and to the study of law, there has been little work that brings these two literatures into conversation. This paper attempts to do so, through considering how STS insights about the instability, complexity, fragility and multiplicity of objects such as ‘drugs’ and ‘addiction’ might be mobilised in legal practice. I consider what STS means for drug law, especially where law and legal practice proceeds on the basis that legal ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ exist prior to legal intervention, or are ‘discovered’ – rather than made – through legal processes. I draw on data collected in Australia and Canada for a research project on addiction in the law, including statutes and case law, and interviews with lawyers and judges. I argue that STS insights challenge assumptions about ‘facts’ and ‘truths’ in law, including concepts and claims frequently made about the agency and properties of drugs and of addiction. I explore what this ‘ontopolitically-oriented’ approach to legal practice might mean for drug law and law reform, and consider how it might inform and inspire lawyers to advocate in radically different ways.
Making testosterone matter in motivations for steroid injecting
Dr Renae Fomiatti
Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone. They are thought to be the most commonly used performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) in Australia. The motivations for men’s use of steroids and other PIEDs is a key area of interest for researchers. Established ways of understanding these motivations highlight men’s performance and/or image-related concerns, such as the desire for increased physical size and strength, or body-image dissatisfaction, in the context of contemporary masculinities and gender norms. Although testosterone consumption is associated with the politically freighted social practice of injecting, researchers have paid little attention to how the social and political features of testosterone shape and transform steroid use. Instead, testosterone tends to be taken for granted as a ‘messenger of sex’ that acts on the body in predictable and routinised ways (e.g. increasing muscle mass and size, adversely affecting mental health). This paper takes a different approach, drawing on interviews conducted for a new Australian research project that focuses on men who consume PIEDs to consider how their understandings of testosterone co-produce their consumption patterns and practices. Drawing on feminist science studies, I investigate how the cultural and symbolic meanings assigned to testosterone shape the ontological politics of this consumption. Assembling an ‘ontopolitically-oriented’ account of testosterone – as an emergent social and biopolitical gathering rather than as a stable sex hormone – allows us to better understand the forces motivating and mediating men’s PIED consumption, in particular, pervasive ideas about sexual difference and the biology of gender.
Take-home naloxone and the ontopolitics of care
Dr Adrian Farrugia
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to reverse the life-threatening effects of an opioid overdose. The term ‘take-home naloxone’ refers to naloxone that is administered by non-medically trained people during an overdose. The little sociological research on take-home naloxone available emphasises the importance of local social relations, noting, that unless naloxone is administered with care it can cause distress and be experienced as a punishment. However, researchers are yet to analyse the social dynamics that shape how the technology is taken up, administered and, ultimately, how it ‘works’. I draw on interviews collected for a new Australian project on take-home naloxone to consider these issues. Using Bruno Latour’s work, I argue that technologies such as take-home naloxone are co-produced within social relations and, therefore, ‘afford’ rather than determine certain outcomes. Adopting a case-study method I identify an interpersonal ‘politics of care’ in which the affordances of take-home naloxone take shape within interpersonal caring relations. Importantly, this politics of care calls upon particular people to respond to overdose, and thus to take part in an ontological politics of care that exceeds standard understandings of naloxone as simply an ‘emergency medicine’. First, I identify a regime of care within an intimate partnership that allows a participant to care for her terminally ill partner. Second, I identify a political process in which a participant takes care of opioid consumers, ‘gently’ administering it with a sensitivity for care beyond revival. I conclude by exploring the ontopolitical affordances of a politics of care approach for the dissemination and uptake of take-home naloxone.