Contemporary Drug Problems Conference

Paris, 6–8 September 2023

Embracing trouble: New ways of doing, being and knowing

In recent years, critical alcohol and other drugs scholars have been seeking to trouble foundational ideas and claims about alcohol and other drugs, including taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature, effects and harms associated with drug use. Importantly, this critical scholarship also calls for accountability in our own roles as researchers in producing and reproducing ideas about and depictions of alcohol and other drugs and troubling our concepts and methods. As Suzanne Fraser argued at the 2017 Contemporary Drug Problems conference in Helsinki, Finland, all research projects are intrinsically performative: ‘They are as intimately involved in the making of everyday material realities as they are in reflecting them. As such, researchers have the obligation not only to track the realities being made by their research, but to approach the design and conduct of the research with this action in mind’.

These developments in drug research are inspired by insights from several fields, including feminist theory, narcofeminism, queer theory, Science and Technology Studies, new materialism, Indigenous knowledges and decolonising methodologies. When we trouble methods, we reflect on our own role in the production of realities, the ethics and politics of different ways of knowing and doing, the positionality of researchers, and the relationship between all of these practices and the production of realities. In the contested fields of drug policy, biomedical research, and harm reduction, this troubling also generates ethical, epistemological, and empirical questions: what does this mean for political claims-making and advocacy in research? How can we embrace trouble in politically productive ways? In troubled times that seem to be eroding trust and solidarity, how do we ensure our claims to knowledge, authority and rigour are useful?

What would it mean to embrace trouble in the ways we do and make research methods and knowledge? What responsibilities and obligations might this confer on researchers, policy practitioners, and institutions? What new knowledges and paths of inquiries could this open? What changes might be necessary in the assumptions informing policy and other forms of social and political action? How might we think about identity, reflexivity, power and positionality in research collaborations, including understandings of lived experience and expertise? How might diagnostic instruments, treatment systems, legal processes, health promotion and popular culture be changed to benefit people who consume drugs, and, in turn, all of us?

Building on CDP’s previous conferences, which have opened up questions of how drugs are problematised; how the complexity of drug use can be attended to; how drug use might be understood as event, assemblage or phenomenon; how drugs and their effects are constituted in various forms of practice and interactions/intra-actions, and how we might rethink change, the 2023 conference seeks submissions for presentations that engage with and trouble our own methods, tools and practices in alcohol and other drug research.

We welcome research from those working in anthropology, cultural studies, law, epidemiology, social epidemiology, history, public policy, gender studies, sociology and related disciplines, and encourage the innovative use of methods, concepts and theoretical tools. Possible topics include (but are not limited to) critical considerations of method in relation to:

  • Alcohol and other drug policy
  • Risk
  • Prohibition and international drug conventions
  • Mandated treatment
  • Co-production and/or consumer participation in policy, service design/delivery and research
  • Drug courts
  • Education/health promotion in schools and universities
  • Harm reduction services and measures
  • Neuroscientific approaches to drug effects and addiction
  • Monitoring/surveillance systems
  • Research on drug trends
  • Quantitative measures of alcohol and other drug use and harms
  • Qualitative concepts of subjectivity, agency, affect and identity
  • Consumer accounts and narratives of drug use, addiction and recovery
  • Reflexivity and research identities, including processes of categorisation (‘lived experience’, ‘expertise’)
  • Power and positionality in collaborations between/with researchers and people who use drugs
  • Medical and other forms of diagnosis/assessment
  • Treatment models and practices
  • Youth and other drug services
  • Social media websites and apps
  • Popular culture enactments of drug use

Other relevant topics are also welcome.

Conference convenors

Hosted by Contemporary Drug Problems, the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University (Australia); the Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney (Australia); the Advanced School for Social Sciences (EHESS) (France); the Behaviours and Health Risks Program, Burnet Institute (Australia); Turning Point, Monash University (Australia); the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (USA), and the Department of Social Work, Stockholm University (Sweden), this conference will bring together leading international researchers in drug use and addiction studies from a range of research disciplines and methods – both qualitative and quantitative. The conference committee comprises:

The conference is generously sponsored by the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University in Australia and the D3S ("Social Science, Drugs and Society program") from the Advanced School of Social Science-Institute of Public Health Research in France.

ARCSHS logo and D3S logo


Registrations are now open for the 2023 Contemporary Drug Problems conference. Registrations close on 31 August 2023.

Ticket options

Ticket type Price (AUD)
Early bird registration (until June 19 2023) $620
Full registration $720
Student registration $400
One-day registration $250
Online only $250

All in-person registrations include full catering during conference hours.

Register for the conference

The conference committee acknowledges the financial challenges that some people may face in participating in international professional meetings (e.g. those who are on a low wage or who are unwaged, and people with lived experience of drug use). The committee may be able to provide assistance by waiving the conference registration fee for those affected. If you would like to find out more please contact the conference organisers at

Conference dinner

A conference dinner will be held separately to the main conference, on the Thursday evening.

Date: Thursday 7 September
Location: Musée d'Orsay, 1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, Paris.
Time: Museum entrance from 5:45 pm, followed by dinner at 7:30 pm
Cost: AUD$140, including entrance to the museum and a three-course dinner with wine

Book for the conference dinner

Conference venue

Forum104, 104 Rue de Vaugirard, 75006, Paris

Conference format

The conference will run over three days. The program will feature a mix of keynote presentations and concurrent streams. Presentations will run for 20 minutes to be followed by 10 minutes for questions and discussion.


Download the conference program [PDF, 0.1MB]

Download the conference program and abstracts booklet [PDF, 3.4MB]

Keynote speakers

The conference will feature keynote addresses from some of the world's leading scholars of alcohol and other drugs. This section of the website will be updated with keynote details in the coming months.

Professor Suzanne Fraser, La Trobe University, Australia

‘Staying with the trouble’ in ontopolitical research on drugs

Trouble seems to be characteristic of contemporary politics and life. From the environment to the pandemic, crises of political credibility around the world, conflict on social media and the drama of so-called ‘cancel culture’, avoiding or settling trouble seems more unimaginable than ever. Yet, as the theme of this conference makes clear, trouble is not always negative, especially when posed in verb form. To trouble pre-conceptions, orthodoxies or alienating norms can be productive, exciting and transformative. This is as much the case in research as in any other area of life. Troubling our founding assumptions, our research questions, our theories and methods is the way we move forward, even if it is not always easy or immediately rewarding. In this keynote presentation I will reflect on my own engagements with forms of scholarly trouble, drawing on the work of Donna Haraway in her book Staying with the Trouble (2018) to identify key ways in which we as researchers may ‘embrace trouble’ in useful and productive ways. Thinking through some central propositions articulated by Haraway in her engagement with other scholars, such as the importance of storytelling, the value of grieving, the banality of evil and the uses of response-ability, I will offer a range of examples drawn from my own work in critical drug studies and ontopolitical research to highlight the promises and pitfalls of trouble. In doing so, I aim to acknowledge the opportunities I have enjoyed over the years to be part of the innovative and courageous field of critical drug studies, of which the Contemporary Drug Problems conference is also a part.

Dr Maziyar Ghiabi, University of Exeter, England

On recovery beyond its possibility of being

Through ethnographic encounters in grassroots recovery groups - NA in Iran, which counts several hundreds of thousands of members, and Christian-and-secular groups in Lebanon - and among people using drugs in outwardly moralised/policed settings, I will explore the following questions: What does it mean to pursue recovery in a political and physical environment beyond its possibility of being? How can we make sense of the individual trajectories of people living with, and managing ‘addiction’ in contexts of systemic disruption? Can we attend to such an (im)possible horizon through the unearthing of figures of troubled meaning from outside our West-centric scripts? My keynote addresses these questions through two reflective moments based on my archival and ethnographic research over the past 10 years in the so-called Middle East (aka West Asia). In the first section of the talk, I explore the phenomenological connections between individual life journeys of people using ‘drugs’ and pursuing recovery from ‘addiction’ and the epochal events that transformed their life environments over the past half century. The two settings I engage with are that of Lebanon and Iran. Troubles are in no shortage here: civil war, revolution, displacement, political and sectarian violence, economic and banking crises, infrastructural and health disasters, and the abandonment of hope in the wake of the defeat of popular revolts are parcels of the life of ‘recovery’ in a condition that feels beyond its horizon, its possibility of being. What notions and experiences of recovery are emerging in such troubling conditions? And how we can make sense of them beyond defeat and failure? What happens when we embrace the trouble as a site of meaning and being? In the second part of the talk, I try to respond to (and un-think) the above questions by searching for meaning in other epistemological, ethical pursuits beyond the West. Specifically, I look at the lifeworld of intoxication and ‘addiction’ in Islamicate history reviving the figure of the rend: a poetical and socio-historical archetype of the intoxicated (to wine, opium, cannabis and heteronormative love) who lives in ruins (kharabāt) and speaks truth to public authority, the rend is a generative paradigm to understand ‘addiction’ and ‘recovery’ in states of disruption. In thinking with the rend – hence adopting a rendi epistemology – I explore a figure of (im)possibility with the ambivalent potentiality of being ‘beyond recovery’ and yet being ‘ethical’. In conclusion, I argue that this pursuit of non-Western ethical, epistemological paradigms does not only shed light on hitherto forgotten realities, but it has also transformative potential for the understanding of drugs and ‘addiction’ in our disrupted times.

Dr Annie Madden, International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), Harm Reduction Australia and 2SqPegs Consulting; and Zoë Dodd, MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions - Unity Health

Of Resistances & Reckonings in a Time of War

In his 2018 book on drug user activism and the war on drugs, Zigon proposes the idea of “war as governance”, whereby war has become the “contemporary condition of things” (Zigon, 2018, p.7). In thinking about the ‘war on drugs’ as both a generalised state of being and, as a ‘thing’ that is being fought against people (not countries), we will critically consider some of the ethico-political dimensions of being anti-drug-war-activist/researchers in a time when war is everywhere and all around us. Drawing on research with other anti-drug-war-activists globally, as well as events and encounters in our everyday work, we will engage in a critical conversation about being anti-drug-war-activists’ and doing anti-drug-war-activism in spaces and atmospheres that routinely engage in practices that are at best, careless and at worst, actively hostile, even violent towards us. In addition, our conversation will consider some of the more affective, embodied and ethico-political consequences of how things are being done and made possible in these settings (including the psychological and physical harms that can come to activists who are ‘just doing their job’). We will specifically explore how dominant drug policy discourses and governing practices associated with the war on drugs work to de-legitimise, render invisible, make silent and remove evidence of dissent. But despite all these troubling practices, we will also show how anti-drug-war-activists have not just endured in these constraining environments, but are engaging in (sometimes small, but always important) practices and techniques of disruption, subversion, and resistance to these dominant ways of doing things. We will finish therefore, with some thoughts on the potential of these activist-driven reckonings and resistances to shift us towards new social and political imaginaries, ones that open-up possibilities beyond ‘war as governance’… beyond the war on people who use drugs.