In August SSAC team members travelled to Helsinki, Finland, to take part in the biennial Contemporary Drug Problems conference, this year’s theme being ‘Making alcohol and other drug realities’. This conference was particularly well suited to the SSAC team as it offers an avenue for presenting conceptually rich and challenging alcohol and other drug research that critically engages with central issues in the field. Four SSAC team members presented at the conference: Suzanne Fraser, Adrian Farrugia, Kate Seear and Eliana Sarmiento.
SSAC Program leader, Professor Suzanne Fraser, also one of the conference organisers, chaired the conference’s first keynote address, delivered on day 1 by influential policy theorist, Professor Carol Bacchi. She also presented her own research on the first day, in a paper entitled ‘Doing ontopolitically oriented research: Investigating and enacting lives of substance’. In this presentation Suzanne explained the conceptual orientation of the SSAC research project that produced the highly praised livesofsubstance.org website, launched in late 2016. According to Suzanne, all research takes part in ‘ontological politics’, that is, it helps shape the realities it is conventionally understood only to describe. Focussing on research methods, Suzanne explained how her project was conducted in ways that aimed to exploit this constitutive aspect of research to produce more ethical realities of alcohol and other drug addiction, dependence or habit. Exploring the methodological performativity of naming, the ontological implications of recruitment, and the liabilities and limits of ‘experience’ and ‘representation’, Suzanne introduced some key features of, and primary considerations for those wanting to conduct, what she terms ‘ontopolitcally oriented research’.
Dr Adrian Farrugia was the next SSAC team member to present. Along with co-author Dr Peta Malins (RIMT University), Adrian presented a paper from his PhD research on drug education entitled ‘Effective of ethical? Analysing the ontological politics of “effective” drug education’. In this presentation Adrian argued that current research on drug education measures ‘effectiveness’ in ways that efface important ethical and political issues intrinsic to educating young people about alcohol and other drugs. Focussing on harmful accounts of gender and responsibility, and stigmatising notions of young drug consumers, Adrian argued that drug education takes part in an unethical ontological politics of youth drug use, one that is not detected or analysed in current research on ‘effective’ drug education. Complementing some of Suzanne’s conclusions, Adrian and Peta called for drug education practices and drug education research attuned to their ontological politics.
Dr Kate Seear was third SSAC team member to speak. Presenting a paper entitled ‘The chronotope of the community: Producing Aboriginality, alcoholism and addiction in Australian criminal law’, Kate analysed how Australian criminal law enables specific deliberations about space-time, and how these deliberations constitute Aboriginality, alcoholism, addiction and responsibility. Theorising what she terms the ‘the chronotope of the Aboriginal community’, Kate argued that current Australian law presents Aboriginal people as living in spatially bounded locales rife with enduring alcoholism, addiction and violence. Kate argued that the chronotope of the Aboriginal community is an important mechanism for the governance of Indigenous Australians, one echoed in legislative measures to control the consumption of alcohol and other drugs by Indigenous people across Australia. Importantly, Kate argued that although it may serve the interests of individual offenders in specific cases, the chronotope has problematic ramifications for all Indigenous Australians, including gendered ramifications, and that the criminal law may warrant reform.
Ms Eliana Sarmiento was the final member of the SSAC team to present at the conference. Eliana presented a paper entitled ‘Exploring the effects of custodial sanctions in an Australian drug court’, drawn from her current PhD research. Eliana presented a detailed study of the way in which sanctions and rewards are administered in an Australian drug court. She argued that although the drug court has available to it a variety of sanctions to respond to program ‘non-compliance’, which do not involve imprisonment, the main sanction utilised is incarceration. By tracing some of the unforeseen effects of the system of rewards and sanctions, Eliana suggested that although the drug court model is publicly promoted as an alternative to prison, it does not in practice present viable alternatives to incarceration.
Overall, Contemporary Drug Problems 2017 was a very productive event for the SSAC team. The program’s research stimulated much discussion. Interest in critical and conceptually innovative research approaches to alcohol and other drugs continues to grow and the SSAC team are happy to contribute to this. As Suzanne explains,
Our research program aims to interrogate the central concepts and problems used in the governance of drug consumption. The 2017 CDP conference highlighted the growing importance of these kinds of questions for alcohol and other drug researchers. It was exciting to connect with researchers from many different countries with interests relevant to SSAC activities, and to draw inspiration from the conceptual and empirical work going on elsewhere.
For a full list of SSAC’s current research program, click here.