In which I wonder what the hell I actually know if I can't explain it - Tactical Ninja
Apr. 26th, 2012
10:17 am - In which I wonder what the hell I actually know if I can't explain it
The essay writing is not going well. You'd think the social construction of drug use and misuse would be easy, right? Especially for someone like me, right?
Y'see, it's a huge topic, and we only have 2000 words to play with.
It started out pretty well, with an introduction pointing out the way alcohol use here is supported and condoned by the state, illustrated by the tourist signs that help people follow the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail. It then goes on to look at the way drug use and misuse is constructed in NZ law and policy, which essentially covers two things:
1. Use and misuse is a dichotomy split by the purpose a substance is used for - essentially whether it's a medical or non-medical purpose, with medical use being legitimate use, and seeking psychoactive effects being illegitimate misuse.
2. Alcohol and tobacco are exempted from this dichotomy.
It's after that that I get tangled up. There are two ways I could go with it - backwards or forwards.
Backwards: the route I seem to have taken. Looks at how the construction of use and misuse came about. Starts with the delegitimisation of non-medical opium use in the late 19th Century and the placement of control of opium with the establishment, which made the prescribed use of opium by middle classs white people 'use', and the non-prescribed use of opium by poor Chinese 'misuse'. Goes on to pose a theory that construction of drugs is an interaction of three factors: claims about the risks of a drug, claims about the attributes of its users, and claims about the purpose for which it's used, with medical use being legitimate and non-medical use being illegitimate. Then talks about how this worked for some drugs and the increasingly counterfactual claims made about drugs and their users based on who uses them and what for. Cocaine, for example, was a legitimate medicine when used by middle class white people, but when lower class white people and black people started to use it recreationally, it began to be claimed that it created 'dope fiends' who raped women and couldn't be stopped by bullets. And we've all seen Reefer Madness, right? Alcohol and tobacco managed to escape the puritanical dichotomy of medicine vs recreation (eventually) by virtue of being the drugs of choice of the rich white majority, and after that their use was promoted alongside the use of pharmaceuticals while the use of other drugs was censured. I could look at ways in which this construct was propagated, and then end with the bit I started with.
The problem with this approach is that it gets very tangled and goes a long way from where I started. It's also quite hard to explain in concise terms or in any depth in the space I have. And this theory of claims about drugs, claims about purpose for use, and claims about the users? Mine. Not something I saw in a book (although I can't possibly be the first person to ever have thought this). That makes it a bit harder to sell in a 200 level course.
Forwards: I could look at the way the construction of drugs in NZ law and policy affects the way drug use and misuse plays out in NZ life - the way drugs are represented in the media, the way users are treated. This would be easier, but I fear it misses the question, which is this:
"Critically analyse the notion that drug use/misuse is a social construct."
I guess another approach I could take could be to explore my theory of tripartite claims a bit more deeply, using historic and contemporary examples. Like, divide the essay into roughly equal portions and look at the claims made about the drug, claims made about the users, and claims made about the purpose for use, with examples. This would probably require a comparative approach, perhaps between an illegal substance, a pharmaceutical substance and a legal recreational one.
I have already written over 2000 words and am not keen to chuck them out and start again.
I guess I could also shrink the backwards stuff, then put the stuff about how this construction of medical as 'use' and non-medical as 'misuse' with alcohol and tobacco exempt is evident in NZ law and policy today, and then put in a bit about how this affects the treatment of users. That might be a way of avoiding rewriting the whole bloody thing, eh?
I am glad I started early. For a topic I'm so familiar with, I'm sure making hard work of it. ;-/ I even woke up this morning with sentences running through my head.
 OR I could critically analyse the constructions evident within NZ law and policy, using their definitions of the harms, the user groups and the purposes to demonstrate that these are not evidence based claims and therefore must be constructs?
My writing process, let me show you it. Probably the most sensible advice I could give myself is to keep writing till I've said everything I want to say, arrange it all in a logical sequence, then move the irrelevant stuff till I have 2000 words. This approach has not failed me yet. And I always hate my essays while I'm writing them - but this one has an extra-added hate factor in that this is a topic close to my heart and I don't feel I'm doing it justice, even though I could explain social construction of drugs to a primary school kid in my sleep.
Maybe I should just stop caring so much.