Forging new habits

Global drug policy is currently dominated by great enthusiasm for the potential of human rights, including the idea that human rights can engender less punitive approaches to drugs. But if human rights are an effective framework for the prevention of punitive approaches towards drugs, why haven’t they prevented them to date?

One possible answer to that question is that rights are less reliable to those society considers ‘less than human’. In Western liberal contexts that valorise rationality, voluntarity, authenticity and order, people who use drugs are likely to figure as compulsive, irrational, duplicitous and chaotic – as ‘less than human’.

A body of critical drug scholarship seeks to intervene in these constructions. This work mobilises ‘habit’ as an otherwise to ‘addiction’, arguing that habit is the foundation of realities. Habits, and thus realities, can be changed.

The latest article from our drugs and human rights project, published in The International Journal of Human Rights, draws on these approaches to explore whether insights from critical drug scholarship can help to generate something after rights, made possible by new habits and modes of connection. To make this argument, we consider habits as a site of both repetition and rupture. We ask whether habits can help us to rethink or disrupt both rights and the kind of ‘human’ they imply in the context of parliamentary human rights deliberative processes in Australia.

We find that the human rights of people who use substances are routinely limited by Australian parliaments through the process of rights assessments, and the rationales parliamentarians deploy to justify those limitations rely on and reproduce Western, liberal, masculine ideals and values. Importantly, we find that these assessments are mutually constitutive. That is, in making assessments about the human rights of people who use drugs, parliamentary deliberative processes constitute people who use drugs as ‘addicts’ who are lacking autonomy and free will; in turn, ‘addicts’ are positioned as outside the ‘proper’ and ‘appropriate’ ways of being to which all humans should aspire and do not conform to the ideals of the ‘human’ endowed with rights.

The idea that human rights frameworks might not extend to people who use drugs raises a major threat to the enthusiasm for human rights, and the growing global calls to invoke human rights mechanisms as a unifying framework for progressive drug law reform.

We suggest that one way of moving to an ‘after’ rights might be embedded within rights scrutiny processes themselves, especially through becoming more attentive to the centrality of connections in human rights scrutiny practices, and by exploring ways to dismantle and disrupt these connections. If human rights scrutiny processes (and their realities) are made and sustained by habits, such realities can be changed through challenging, disrupting and interrogating the way that connections are made and sustained in human rights scrutiny processes, and by insisting on new and different connections or associations.

You can read more on our latest article here

Citation: Seear, K. & Mulcahy, S. (forthcoming). ’Forging new habits: Critical drugs scholarship as an otherwise to rights’, The International Journal of Human Rights