What's Normal? An Ethnographic Account of Heroin Users in Methadone Treatment

Ana Ning
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The use of harm reduction interventions as more feasible alternatives to the complete drug abstinence approach of conventional biomedical paradigms of opiate treatment begs an account of how the goals of heroin recovery are defined, negotiated, and contested between service providers and users. This ethnographic study of discursive constructions of "normalcy" by staff and clients at two harm reduction centres in Toronto, Canada found a diversity of narratives of heroin recovery, which illustrates the need for health services that address the different needs of heroin users. In examining staff's conceptions of "normalcy" that rely on the control and normalization of bodies, or what Foucault calls "biopower", contradictions are revealed in the ways staff put into practice the theory of harm reduction. In turn, a close examination of client responses to institutional goals of treatment reveals that they are not merely "passive" or "docile" subjects of caregivers' "biopower". Rather, their ambiguous strategies for asserting personal identity, challenge staff's taken-for-granted dichotomies such as addiction/recovery, use/abstinence, self-control/out of control, street/straight life.

Keywords: Harm Reduction, Heroin Recovery, Staff and Clients, Normalcy, Methadone Treatment, Toronto
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: ‘What’s Normal? I Don’t Fit either the Street or Straight World!’ An Ethnographic Account of Heroin Users in Methadone Treatment

Ana Ning

Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology
King's University College, University of Western Ontario

London, Ontario, Canada

Dr. Ana Ning has a broad range of academic interests. Originally trained as a social anthropologist, her teaching, research and publishing activities are committed to interdisciplinary scholarship that integrates academic and community needs. Her published research has focused on the areas of addiction and mental health and complementary and alternative health care with wider application in public policy and clinical settings. While her published research has focused on health-related issues, her interests and perspectives are also relevant to diverse topics including social theory, crime, social control, as well as culture, gender and ethnic social relations. Her own multicultural background with lived experiences in East Asia, Africa and Europe prior to settling in Canada is well suited to her work with multicultural and multilingual populations.

Ref: I07P0917