Aims: This paper examines differentiated normalisation through the lens of young drug users from a marginalised neighbourhood where drugs are readily available, prevalence rates are high, and a flourishing drugs market operates.
Methods: The paper draws from the ethnographic fieldwork component of a research study aimed at exploring patterns of drug use, associated drug-related harms and the operation of the local drugs economy in the risk environment of a Dublin neighbourhood (O’Gorman et al., 2013). The study uses a critical interpretivist methodology to explore the role and meaning of drug use from the users’ perspective.
Findings: The narratives of these marginalised young people illustrate how drug use and drug choices are shaped by different intentions, avowed identities and diverse structural, temporal and socio-spatial settings. Their routines and drug repertoires echo the (mainly) reasoned consumption choices, the cost–benefit analyses and the emphasis on pleasure and fun ascribed to recreational drug users, including those who underpin the normalisation concept. However, their drug using practices continue to be rendered deviant due to their experience of social exclusion; exclusion from consumption-orientated lifestyles and from the night time economy; and their inclusion in the informal drugs economy.
Conclusion: Normalisation is relative (not just differentiated) to the social status of the drug user. A reconstructed normalisation thesis inclusive of class (and race, and gender) could explore why the use of similar drugs and similar drug using behaviours by different social groups is differentially accommodated and accepted by mainstream society.