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 Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University (Denmark); 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:

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.

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.