Skip to content
Curtin University
National Drug Research Institute

Preventing Harmful Drug Use In Australia

Fourth Contemporary Drug Problems Conference:
'Making alcohol and other drug realities'

Keynote speakers

Professor Carol Bacchi
'Deploying a poststructural analytic strategy: Political implications'

This paper puts forward a Foucault-influenced analytic strategy, called 'What's the Problem Represented to be?' (WPR approach), as a user-friendly schema for producing poststructural analysis. Previously applied to the policy field (Bacchi 1999, 2009), this paper extends the usefulness of the WPR approach to interrogate the full range of governmental and knowledge practices. It also illustrates how, through a primary focus on governmental problematizations, the WPR approach raises critical questions about an assumed 'real'.

To illustrate what the WPR approach accomplishes in terms of political analysis examples are drawn from the alcohol and other drug field, and from related research areas, which illustrate how 'subjects' and 'objects', including 'places', are constituted (made to be) through practices. Three themes are pursued: the richness of the concept of problematization; theories of the 'subject' and practices; and the political usefulness of replacing 'objects' with objectivizations.

The paper directs particular attention to the forms of politics facilitated through such an analytic strategy. This mode of analysis, it is argued, is valuable for what it opens up rather than for what it proscribes. A poststructural politics is not concerned with setting agendas or championing particular reforms. Through a practice of continuous questioning along the lines of the WPR approach, it becomes possible to reflect on how specific problematizations limit what can be discussed, and produce 'subjects' and 'objects' with possible deleterious consequences for certain individuals and groups.

The importance of applying this form of questioning to one's own propositions and policy proposals is highlighted. Such a practice of self-problematization assists in identifying how we might inadvertently be sustaining the status quo or undermining declared objectives through adopting taken-for-granted ways of thinking. It therefore alerts researchers and analysts to their participation in making rather than reflecting 'reality'. The ethos of continual criticism, thus promoted, opens up the space for challenge and change.

Carol Bacchi is Professor Emerita of Politics at The University of Adelaide. She researches and writes in the fields of policy theory, feminist political theory, embodiment and citizenship, and mobility studies. Her work on policy theory draws on Foucauldian perspectives. Over the past forty years she has encouraged the rethinking of taken-for-granted truths about women's history, equality policy and public policy generally. Major publications include: Same difference: Feminism and sexual difference (Allen & Unwin, 1990), The politics of affirmative action: 'Women', equality and category politics (Sage, 1996), Women, policy and politics: The construction of policy problems (Sage, 1999) and Analysing policy: What's the problem represented to be? (Pearson Education, 2009). Her new book, Poststructural policy analysis: A guide to practice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), written with Susan Goodwin, includes an Appendix, co-authored with Jennifer Bonham, which introduces a new poststructural approach to interview analysis.

Dr Cameron Duff
'Making drug realities: From analysis to praxis after the ontological turn'

A feature of drug studies after the ontological turn has been interest in opening up events of drug consumption to include more of their human and nonhuman constituents, shedding light on the myriad forces at work in these events. Yet despite its avowedly political ambitions, this work has rarely advanced coherent practical strategies for responding directly to the health and social problems associated with drug consumption. With an empirical focus on 'what happens' in consumption events, concern for how these events may be transformed, or 'staged otherwise', has been neglected. In this neglect, and by working so assiduously to expand the cast of actors that may be said to shape consumption events, it has become increasingly difficult to assess how critical drug studies may inform more 'just' or 'fair' drug policy arrangements, or more 'progressive' drug law reforms. Indeed, what these political attributes might be taken to mean has itself become uncertain. These difficulties signal the most crucial challenges for the next phase of critical drug research. Having revealed how the realities of drug consumption are made in discourse, affect and practice, the key challenge for critical drug studies is to determine how these realities may be remade in the design of novel drug policy and practice interventions. My paper responds to this challenge by proposing a novel harm reduction praxis grounded in ongoing transformation of the assemblages and events in which particular drug problems emerge. I will explore two historical case examples for insights into how this strategy of counter-actualisation might proceed. I will begin with Durkheim's seminal analysis of suicide before turning to consider the emergence of radical and emancipatory pedagogies in the early 1970s. I will argue that each case involved the introduction of new ways of understanding familiar problems, overcoming established orthodoxies, just as each case, over time, inspired the evolution of innovative policy responses to these problems. Taking up Deleuze's transcendental empiricism, I will go on to argue that the former involved the counter-actualisation of events of suicide, and the latter, events of teaching and learning, in a social, affective and political reterritorialisation of specific assemblages of health and education. Just as health and social policy changed in the wake of Durkheim's research, and schooling changed in the wake of radical pedagogies, drug studies after the ontological turn ought to move towards an experimental ethos whereby particular drug realities may be transformed in the realisation of more ethical, healthy, enabling or expressive consumption events. I will close with a brief discussion of how this experimental ethos may intersect with recent efforts to reform the social and political regulation of drug consumption in various settings.

Dr Cameron Duff is Vice Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for People, Organisation and Work at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. His research explores the role of social innovation in responding to complex health and social problems in urban settings. Duff has explored these themes in qualitative studies of addiction, mental illness, housing insecurity and social inclusion in Australia and Canada. He has ongoing international collaborations with scholars at the University of Warwick, University College London, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Toronto and the Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria, Canada, where he employs varied qualitative and ethnographic research designs. His book, Assemblages of health: Deleuze's empiricism and the ethology of life, was published in 2014 by Springer.

Dr Adam Winstock & Dr Monica Barratt
'The Global Drug Survey: Participatory methods and the making of safer drug realities'

The Global Drug Survey (GDS) is the world's largest survey of people who use psychoactive drugs. Its mission is to make drug use safer regardless of the legal status of the drug. The annual web survey reaches over 100,000 participants, is translated into 10 languages and is promoted in 20 countries. We ask participants about their use of over 150 different drug types, making GDS a uniquely comprehensive dataset on the use of new and emerging drugs. We have also been at the forefront of research into emerging drug market trends, including the purchase of drugs from websites and the darknet. GDS involves partnerships with researchers and harm reduction organisations in over 20 countries. It is self-funded through the provision of data reports to governments and health organisations as well offering digital health apps to deliver brief screening and intervention (e.g. Like its forerunner, the Mixmag surveys, the GDS adopts a specific orientation towards the target population, with a focus on non-treatment-seeking or 'recreational' drug users and an emphasis on curating information that is useful for people who use drugs. Our participatory approach to the recruitment of the GDS sample is predicated on accepting that people's decisions about drug use prioritise experiencing pleasure over avoiding harm, although supporting harm reduction remains a key aim. We share our findings rapidly with the broader community: in journal articles and the mainstream media. In return for their participation, GDS offers people a suite of apps with which they can compare their use to others of a similar demographic and learn about various harm reduction methods. In the context of understanding research as one of the ways in which drug realities are made, this presentation reflects upon the GDS and the meanings that we co-construct with our participants, partners and media contacts. We trace this process of co-construction in relation to several examples: the genesis of an idea for a survey component, the process of recruitment, the data 'cleaning and crunching' process following recruitment, the offering of digital health apps, the release of media stories and the way in which the findings are used in the public sphere. Through closer examination of this cycle of data production and dissemination, we examine the kinds of drug realities being produced, and ask where in the process other kinds of drug realities are silenced.

Adam Winstock is the founder and director of the Global Drug Survey, the world's largest annual survey of drug use trends, and a Consultant Addiction Psychiatrist based in London. He was previously Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital and Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London. Dr Winstock has published over 100 research papers and has developed particular clinical and research expertise in the areas of cannabis, new drugs and chemsex. He is also the architect of the world's first harm reduction guide voted for by people who use drugs (, online and smart phone apps (,, and, an ultra-brief feedback and assessment tool for cannabis use.

Monica Barratt is a member of the Global Drug Survey's Core Research Team and a National Health and Medical Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia. Her research examines the social and public health implications of digital technologies for people who use illicit and emerging psychoactive drugs. Research topics emerging from this interest include online drug markets, or cryptomarkets, and policy responses to the evolution of novel psychoactive substances. She specialises in engaging hard-to-reach networks and groups in digital spaces in conversations about research and policy in order to inform policy change. Dr Barratt also serves as an associate editor at the International Journal of Drug Policy, and as the Director of Research at the international drug harm reduction community