Marginalised drug using women's pleasure and agency

Natasha Du Rose

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This paper discusses the problem of conceptualising female drug user’s pleasure, agency and autonomy in the context of their social and economic marginalization and victimization. It examines how the conceptual tools derived from or influenced by cultural criminology, including Lyng’s edgework and Steven’s subterranean structuration, can illuminate and provide a rich account of marginalised female drug users’ pleasure, agency and resistance. In so doing, it aims to highlight dimensions of female users’ pleasure that are often pathologized as irrational or hedonistic or else silenced and dismissed. It also examines how women’s agency and pleasure is obscured in the broadly male tradition of cultural criminology. And, finally, it explores women drug users’ awareness of and reaction to the gendered discourses in which they operate.
The original research involved a Foucauldian discourse analysis of semi-structured interviews with forty mostly crack and heroin users in three English cities (Bristol, Reading and London) in the UK. The focus of the analysis was the impact of drug policy on the women’s lives. For this paper, the women’s accounts were revisited using a new and different critical lens provided by cultural criminological concepts in order to explore previously obscured elements of pleasure and agency.
The women’s accounts demonstrated drug using pleasures involving the transcendence of everyday reality in a continual negotiation of the ‘edge’, for example, of pleasure and pain and a disordered and ordered sense of self. It explores how the women’s narratives undermined constructions of drug use as a descent into chaos and unreason as it enabled them to manage emotional pain and trauma and at times feel more in control of their lives. It examines how becoming part of a subterranean drug culture enabled them to embrace an exciting and unpredictable lifestyle which provided a relief from their otherwise unremarkable and uneventful lives. It also redressed their limited earning potential and gave them a sense of belonging with others like them. At times, without loved ones or community networks of support, the women were always able to turn to drugs for company and comfort and this helped them survive. Offering access to quick and easy money, the lifestyle gave the women status and allowed them to feel as if they could be somebody rather than nobody. Finally, the paper examines the ways in which the women used their skills and prowess to survive and create and maintain a positive identity for themselves by taking and staying in control and resisting gendered oppression.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages34
JournalSocial History of Alcohol and Drugs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2017

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