Habitus and Drug Using Environments: Health, Place, and Lived-Experience

Where do we inject drugs? What do the actual places look like? Are they grimy? Or well-maintained? And, more importantly, what can we glean from drug-using environments around the UK? In Stephen Parkin’s new book, we get a sense of this – and so much more.

I reviewed his 2013 monograph for Sociology of Health and Illness earlier this year and found it fascinating. It can viewed here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/shil.2015.37.issue-1/issuetoc

I wrote that it was a “dense and penetrating book that not only helps to re-conceptualise the drug user as an actor, but also problematises the interaction of drugs, drug-using environments and legal frameworks.”

Honestly, I was particularly impressed with the fact that he really got his hands dirty. “He conducted,” I wrote, “over 70 interviews with drug users and close to 170 with front-line health workers in four separate locations in the south of England, including Barking and Dagenham, Plymouth and Southend-on-Sea. At the same time, Parkin fully immersed himself in the milieu that he describes, thereby amassing ethnographic observations, visual assessments of over 400 separate sites and 1000 photographs.”

Basically, Parkin created a wickedly massive dataset.

Looking ahead, I hope that scholars in Canada (and, to a lesser extent) the U.S. follow Parkin’s lead. Getting down in dirty and chronicling drug-using spaces adds a new dimension – a humanity – to the typical drug user.

And perhaps this, in turn, can assist the policy process.

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