Insights from the GLaD team presentations at the Sixth Contemporary Drug Problems Conference

GLaD team members Kate Seear, Emily Lenton and Alejandra Zuluaga recently presented their work at the sixth Contemporary Drug Problems conference. Titled ‘Embracing trouble: New ways of doing, being, and knowing’, the conference took place in Paris, France, from the 6th to the 8th of September 2023. It provided a platform for reflection on research methods, knowledge, assumptions informing policy and other forms of social and political action, as well as issues related to identity, power and reflexivity in research.

GLaD researchers presented findings from three current projects. The first project, titled ‘Addressing hepatitis C–related legal, policy and practice discrimination in a post-cure world’, aims to produce new knowledge to inform strategies for reducing discrimination and stigma among people with lived experiences of hepatitis C.

GLaD team member Emily Lenton presented findings from this project. Emily’s presentation explored how people who experience stigma or discrimination feel about making complaints. Drawing on Sara Ahmed’s (2021) work Complaint!, Emily and co-authors analysed 30 interviews with people with lived experience of hepatitis C. Their findings revealed that often ‘behaviours of the complainant become the focus of complaint processes’, overshadowing the actual complaints themselves. Emily’s paper argued that, even though people with lived experiences of hepatitis C are aware of the deficiencies in the quality of their treatment, they often perceive these issues as ‘intractable’ or ‘not worth complaining about’. Many of these barriers are ‘structural and deeply embedded’, and the paper called for a re-evaluation of how complaints are addressed. It proposed a ‘troubling of complaints’, where ‘complaints’ are not conceptualised as individual problems but rather as collective, structural concerns that demand new methods for researching and doing. More information about these experiences of (not making a) complaint will soon be available in a forthcoming journal article. Keep an eye on the GLaD website for details.

The second GLaD project, titled ‘A world-first ‘post–human rights’ framework for drug policy: Improving social, economic and health outcomes’, seeks to generate new knowledge on the challenges and possibilities of human rights–based approaches for reforming drug law and policy. GLaD program lead Kate Seear’s presentation, ‘Troubling human rights in the matterphorical lawscape: A dopesick ontology’, which was co-authored with GLaD researcher Sean Mulcahy, presented findings from this project.

Kate’s presentation questioned the taken-for-granted assumption that human rights are ‘immaterial’, ‘disembodied’ and ‘capable of realisation through seemingly objective processes of definition’. Kate and Sean are seeking to trouble this way of understanding human rights by using recent spatial and material turns in legal scholarship, including approaches that emphasise law and matter as co-constitutive. Drawing on 30 interviews with human rights experts and activists, many of whom also identify as people who use drugs, as well as Daniela Gandorfer’s matterphorical approach to law (2020), Kate and Sean examine how rights are entangled with bodies, borders and ‘sticky methadone formulations’ that can be licked from suitcases, languages, suits and airplanes. Based on this approach, Kate and Sean introduced the concept of a ‘dopesick ontology’, which highlights the interconnectedness of human and non-human bodies in the emergence of human rights. The concept of ‘dopesick ontology’ encourages us to rethink the relationship between human rights and drug policy, as well as how we conceptualise suffering, accountability and justice. Kate and Sean’s work on the dopesick ontology will also be available to read about further in a forthcoming journal article.

Finally, in ‘Ontopolitically-oriented research on coca growing: Integrating decolonial knowledges and Latina feminisms’, GLaD member Alejandra Zuluaga also presented findings from a GLaD project on human rights.

Alejandra’s presentation engaged with the concept of ontopolitically-oriented research, emphasising its valuable contributions to challenging established notions about alcohol and other drugs while addressing ethical responsibilities in research practices. Alejandra explored opportunities to bring ontopolitically-oriented research into conversation with work on colonialism. Specifically, her presentation explored the experience of conducting research in the Global North while remaining sensitive to Latin American ontological commitments. Drawing on preliminary insights from her doctoral research on coca growing, human rights and gender in Colombia, Alejandra proposed expanding the concept of ontopolitically-oriented research through the incorporation of Latina feminist theory and decolonial theory. Drawing from Gloria Anzaldúa’s (1987) concept of ‘mestiza consciousness’, Alejandra explored the overlaps between the ontological turn and the decolonial turn and proposed the need to trouble ‘universal’ and normative concepts in research practices. Drawing from Latina feminisms, Alejandra elaborated on ways in which Latin American feminisms and ontopolitically-oriented research can complement and enhance each other, and invited researchers to consider these as complementary pathways in the field of alcohol and other drugs research.

Keep an eye on our website for more updates on these projects, and you can find more about the Contemporary Drug Problems conference here.