Drugs and the dangerous poor: exploring the policy construction-response nexus

Susanne MacGregor, Aileen O'Gorman

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


ObjectivesContemporary constructions and assumptions about drug-related ‘risk’ (in relation to at-risk groups and risk behaviours) are not fixed. They are constructed, de-constructed and re-constructed in multiple ways, influenced by factors that change over time and from place to place. And, they inevitably influence the nature of formal responses to the perceived threats and the control and management of behaviours, people and environments. These constructions and responses have been enshrined in national and local legislation and policy; and they have been implemented in a variety of – often inconsistent – ways that impact differently on different sections of the population (thereby often sustaining or further exacerbating negative constructions rather than addressing the risk status of identified groups or locations).
This paper examines the role of drugs (including alcohol) in the framing of groups and locations – such as inner cities, banlieues, housing projects, and ghettoes - considered to be a threat to the status quo as ‘dangerous classes’ and ‘dangerous spaces’. We explore the ways in which evidence on drugs and alcohol use has been selected to construct images of the pathological poor over time and in different countries. We will show how these images have shaped policy responses and indicate how a more balanced approach to the evidence gives a different picture of poorer people and of their drug and alcohol use. Issues of marginalisation, intersectionality, stigmatisation, human rights and social expectations will be discussed and illustrated. 
MethodologyThis paper takes a critical interpretive approach to analysing the social production of drug policy documents (see Coffey, 2013) in the UK, Ireland and internationally. We draw on the works of Baachi (2009, 2012); Fraser and Moore (2011); Houborg & Bjerge, (2011); Roumeltis (2014) and Lancaster and Ritter (2014) who posit that problems are constituted through their representation in policy and the media. Such representations involve descriptions of problems, the organisation of knowledge, implied causations and the implications which follow from the specific problem representations (Bacchi, 1999, p. 36). In this paper, we trace how the use of drugs and alcohol has featured in the manufacturing of a social problem of dangerous classes over time and space. 
Significant Results and ConclusionsThis paper offers a way of understanding how a social phenomenon – such as the definition of a particular group or space as ‘risky’ or ‘dangerous’ – is constructed by stakeholders - the media, advocacy groups, political or social movements, or other actors. Drug-related harms pertaining to issues of health and social exclusion which should be best managed politically on a structural level have become matters of values and behavioural concerns to be addressed by modifying individual behaviour. Stigma reinforced through ‘dangerous’ and 'scrounger' narratives reinforces coercive approaches to addressing drug dependency. Drug and alcohol use is framed as part of a complex of problems concentrated in one strata of society, a facet of intergenerational poverty and explained in moralistic terms. In real life, class, race, gender, age, sexuality etc. overlap intersectionally to structure social relations and social responses.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2018
EventEuropean Society for Social Drug Research 29th Annual Conference - ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 4 Oct 20186 Oct 2018


ConferenceEuropean Society for Social Drug Research 29th Annual Conference
Internet address


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