Paper to the 4.th International Kongress of Critical Psychology, Berlin 1997
In the knowledge and practice field of drug addiction, the famous WHO conception of health, a state of well-being, proves a less than perfect ideal, even if it does point relevantly to the intersection of mental, physical and social phenomena. The idea itself seems to suggest either just the kind of static hedonism, or just the objectifying gaze from the outside which for so long have blocked the efforts of the addicts and their healers. It makes more sense to found a general notion of health on the concept of action potency as developed in critical psychology. Elsewhere(1), Hysse Forchhammer and I have suggested that any understanding of health that does not wish to contradict the specific, psychic and societal aspects of human life, must reflect a practice that deals with the reproduction of the individual in a general sense, and in which this same individual takes part. Key concepts in this thinking are the contrast of restricted and generalized action potency, the dual possibility in individuals' life situations and the societal thought forms with which they can be articulated. Thus, practical dealings with addiction and other health matters are by no means neutral humanitary services. They are intimately connected to a partiality, Parteilichkeit, right in the interactions of partial and common interests and right in the struggle between ideology and development. However, such health practices, and their ideological problems, even if they 'are about' individuals, cannot be adequately understood with a theory that leaves individual subjects alone faced with societal conditions and thought forms. We must be able also to reflect how the very issue of the reproduction of the individual is constructed and changed in the flow of situated social practice. This is one question where the recent Danish attempts to develop a theory of situated practice in action contexts on the basis of critical psychology become relevant(2).
That presupposes, first, that Linda has her own good reasons to take part in our interview. Indeed, she states herself that she really wants to do something for Sjakket, she wants to praise the organization to me because of what the evaluation is likely to mean to it. But she also wants to define Sjakket in a certain way: Sjakket is, or should be, a grass-root, mutual help organization, and not the more traditional sort of institution that she fears Sjakket is becoming lately. Recognition and money from state agencies effect the advent of evaluators, but apparently, it also means that some participants have developed into semi-professional counselors who pick on girls like Linda, just like the social workers or pedagogues would do in ordinary youth clubs or institutions. Sarcastically, Linda calls them petty pedagogues. This conflict is where our projects meet, this is where we can form an alliance, a cooperation, since in my evaluation, I am very interested in how the participants define Sjakket. But there is a problem: It is not altogether clear that she is right. She doesn’t really go into the problem of smoking hash. Maybe the person who picks on her is right about it: Maybe Linda is simply a weak and self-uncertain girl under the influence of the group, the hash-heads? This problem reflects the second precondition for taking the perspective of the subject, the requirement that we do not simply take the words of Linda - or anyone - at face value, but approach them warily with what Markard (1984) has called a 'Suspicion of Ideology' (Ideologie-Verdacht). Not merely that the formulation of the problem is itself part of the problem (as any psychotherapist since Freud would agree), but also the fact that we can only talk with words that have meaning - precisely the meanings filled with ideological distortions which should themselves be overcome in the re-interpretative work of critical research. So we do need to find out at a more general level what we think about the problems that Linda mentions - what do we think about smoking hash like that? Clearly, in our everyday experience, smoking hash daily, even if it isn’t 7 grams a day, can be very problematic. But does that mean we are dealing with a case of drug abuse or addiction?
To find a way toward such an alternative view we may revisit some of the studies done 30 years ago when drug use was still largely considered a cultural phenomenon connected with youth, even with revolt. One representative is Paul Willis of the Birmingham Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies. Investigating "the cultural meaning of drug use" among hippies in the early 70'ies, Willis found that "Drugs importantly mediated many areas of the hippies’ life, including the group’s relation to music" (Hall & Jefferson (eds), p. 106) Willis even suggested a 'sub-cultural pharmacology' , in which, following Becker (1963), the specific meaning, including toxical effect, of using drugs such as marihuana is sought, not in physiological mechanisms, but in the nexus of cultural meaning systems that must be learned by the user as well as the ethnographer. At this point, we run into a different kind of problem: It is clear that there is a critical political edge, a Parteilichkeit, in de-constructing the myth of addiction and the associated politics of the socially excluded, well-meaning or not. But it is not so clear what is to be gained in under-standing drug use as a cultural phenomenon instead. It seems that tends to imply a denial of the problem altogether. As Linda says, she wants to decide for herself what she wants to do - and with such a culturalization of the problem, we seem to have to leave her to it even when we join her in it(3). And so, we wind up pretty close to where Linda is already: Right in the middle of the struggle between the petty pedagogues and the hash heads. Regarding Linda's problem, there isn’t much perspective in any Parteilichkeit here: Either way she goes, we can criticize Linda’s self-understanding as a form of restricted action potency, and either way, we fail to reach a level of understanding where we take the side of Linda, the first person perspective. Theoretically, we seem to reduce Linda’s actions to be expressions of thought forms or discourses - when she smokes hash, she is either captured in a compulsive pattern of behavior that makes it reasonable to intervene by picking on her, or she is just living out a cultural pattern that is in itself meaningful and therefore 'un-touch-able' simply because it is culture.
The concept of the 'user' may be considered one key concept in a modern discourse on social work and health politics(4). The 'user' combines the privacy of the consumer with the privacy of the client in a rather self-contradictory manner. Users are independent individuals who relate to a finite service with regard to a daily life which is separate from this service. As we shall see below, this does not match very well with Linda's overall relation to Sjakket - or, to be more precise, it emphasizes one aspect and neglects others. But this is one aspect which is very much implied in our conversation being a 'user perspective interview'. And the overall project with the street kids, that I evaluate, is actually about the sanctioning, the recognition (Anerkennung), of subjectivity, in four ways:
· As users, as we have seen
· As young, that is, not yet adults, but also no longer children, in this way forming part of a long-term movement towards the societal establishment of a developmental phase characterized by individual generalized qualification and self-determination
· As persons who 'do what they want' instead of being punished, cured or segregated for deviant behavior, thus drawing the boundaries and conditions of legitimate well-fare state citizenship in new ways suited to 'post-Fordist' society
· As informers of research, co-researchers - perhaps as 'subjects' in the abstract sense, each recruited to a leading rôle in the etherical Aufklärung of rationalist discourse, or perhaps, more pragmatically, to play dummies in the hands of the blind oracle of evaluation, inciting progressive social and health workers towards a practice 'on the terms of the users'
Apparently, Linda employs this discourse to defend herself - and in general, to achieve empowerment: Being a 'user' she has privileged access to research as well as to the regulation of Sjakket. The participants in Sjakket pay much attention to the wishes and requirements of their users. Theoretically, this analysis sees Linda as not 'structured by' discourse, but also not standing outside it with a pre-given natural subjectivity in an equally natural 'life-world': Linda, the first person perspective user, is emerging right here in front of us. With a word I have borroughed from Rom Harré(5), she is positioning herself while also producing discourse - she uses and produces discourse, and discourse provides her with position. The below graphic model of the action context may be helpful in understanding the theoretical approach here.
What is important is to realize the fluctuating inter-dependence of the concepts involved. Even if the analytic unit in this 'activity theory', following Leontjew, is formed around an object, it is in a constructive sense, viewed as a process of objectification (Vergegenständlichung). And even if practice is fundamentally subjective, as critical psychology has unfolded from the philosophy of Marx, essentialist misreadings of what can be meant by 'the subject' are sought overcome by focusing on how subject positions are concretely developed and changed in the process of positioning, not in abstract claims of identity, but through participation in a local practice.
Ideology focuses on the aspect of reproduction which is always implied in subjectivity. It is important to notice that subjectivity in general must exist precisely in the tension between reproduction and development. Without reproduction there may be change and generalization, but there is no subject. This means that in a sense, we must acknowledge ideology, partial interest and power if we wish to acknowledge subjectivity. The aim, thus, is not to deny or destroy ideology, but to find ways to what might be called an extended reproduction, a generalization that includes reproduction of partiality(8) .
Linda’s account, then, may be seen as ideological in this sense: She reproduces her own position by reproducing one version of what Sjakket is all about. Even if it is self-contradictory: Smoking hash may be a problem, but Sjakket is all about her doing what she wants to do. The contradiction is, for now, resolved by means of the movement: 'I have reduced my smoking'.
But there is more confusion still to come. We cannot decide whether she tells the truth or not. Perhaps she didn’t really smoke the incredible amount of hash - 7 grams a day. Perhaps she is really just a frail little girl under the influence of the hash-head boys, even too weak to face the 'petty pedagogues' and the evaluator who may suspect that in fact she is increasing her consumption. But then again, perhaps she’s right - we do not know.
This split is itself a classical form of knowledge in traditional social work institutions: The recurring emergence of antagonistic versions of events, motives and objects, typically associated with equally fixed positions of clients and professionals. Do we believe her or don’t we - either way, I contend, the basic institutional form is reproduced, and with it, the identity of the deviant as well as that of the professional, in a world where social work is about helping addicts, and should be on the premises of the addict.
Interestingly, drug treatment institutions have been among the first to develop the principle of ideological institutions which has become possible in the wake of the de- and re-institutionalization and the crisis of expertise in the field of psychiatry(9). More or less total institutions in Goffman's sense offer interpretations of life in the world and form therapies based on holistic views on persons - in a variety of different ways. And user involvement in local ideology replaces the ideology of professionalized welfare state consensus. Typically, these ideologies are not very comprehensive in relation to the premises of the participants. They work by a logic of exclusion that blocks any accumulation and generalization of experience. Inconsistencies of one lead to declaring another in an endless process of starting all over. Each institution/ project/ alternative must grow from its own experience and reproduce its own system of blind spots, from which opposite versions of institutional life proliferate anew. In this case, it may be argued, Linda excludes her real self under the surface of self-determination when she claims the position of the user in the ideology of Sjakket as a user oriented institution. Either way, she is threatened - if she admits the hash problem, she is thrown into the arms of the petty pedagogues, if she denies it, she capitulates to the hash-heads.
Denouncing Sjakket as an ideological institution like this leaves Linda with no choice, just as it leaves the reader and myself with nothing constructive apart from theoretical conside-rations that do not really require her assistance. Partly contrary to Markard (this volume), I contend that any analysis that unveils ideology and outlines restricted action potency but ignores the other side of the coin, the developing or generalizing action possibility in relation to which alone any subject science effort may be relevant, becomes one-sided and, what is worse, neglects the theoretical reflection of its own ends and means. Our hypotheses on ways to go from here should be stated - not in spite of, but because of the fact that they are likely to be the next to be unveiled as restricted and ideological.
2. See, among others, Dreier, 1994, 1995, 1996, Nissen, 1994, in press, Axel, 1997
3. Much of critical Danish social policy is currently caught in this dichotomy on the issue of drugs: Between a social indignation that confirms paternalism or even the law-and-order-policy of the right, and a liberal culturalization to which social distress becomes invisible
4. 'Discourse' here signifying not just how it is talked about, but also how it is organized in practice. This presupposes a materialist reading of Foucault and the tradition of discourse analysis, which in my view is justifiable, in particular when referring to Foucault (1977) and (1978). It is not implied that practice equals ideas. Rather, it is meant to grasp the extent to which all practices, including those dealing with symbols, are organized in structures of meaning.
5. See Davies & Harré, 1996. To them, conversation seems to literallly exhaust the meaning of 'practice' or even life. But the process of positioning is also implied in any materialist version of situated action that wishes to avoid alienation of social relations into 'role structures' or the like.
6. Cf. Billig, 1991, Whetherell & Potter, 1992
7. What is new here, relative to critical psychology, is the level of the action context. More generally speaking, the definite (bestimmte) constellation of subjects forming itself a 'societal subject'; this could be a nation state, an organization, or any social agent in sociological terms. To me, this appears a fruitful way to develop a notion of ideology in critical psychology, since it may point to alternatives to the structuralist or socialization theory implications that tend to follow too easily from abstract notions of 'bourgeois society' as a systemic whole of the overall societal reproduction (as in Holzkamp, 1983), or from unclear 'above/below'-metaphors, such as in PIT's concept of 'socialization from above' (Vergesellschaftung von Oben, see Haug, 1979).
8. Of course, certain constellations of subjects can or should be dissolved. What results, however, is not the end of definite societal subjects, but the forming of new. The Russian revolution was the formation of the Soviet State.
9. Cf. Castel, Castel & Lovell, 1982
10. This is not to imply that the theme of Lebensführung is unimportant. But it does suggest that we should not abstract the theme too much from the societal organization of positions.
11. Højrup, 1983, 1989.
A recommendable introduction in German may be Schriewer, 1993. It should
be added that Højrup is not responsable for the idea of local cultures
as presented here.
Becker, H. 1963. Outsiders. Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. Glencoe: Free Press
Billig, M. 1991. Ideology and Opinion. London: Sage
Castel, R., Castel, F. & Lovell, A. 1982. The Psychiatric Society. New York: Columbia University Press
Davies, B. & Harré, R. 1996. Positioning: The Discoursive Production of Selves. Web-site october 1996: Http://www.massey.ac.nz/~Alock/virtual/welcome/position/position.htm
Dreier, O. 1994. Personal Locations and Perspectives - Psychological Aspects of Social Practice. Copenhagen: Yearbook of Psychological Laboratory
Dreier, O. 1995. Subjectivity and the Practice of Psychotherapy. Paper presented at the conference for the International Society for Theoretical Psychology, Ottawa, Canada
Dreier, O. 1996. Psychotherapy as a constellation of practice across contexts. In Mattingly & Garro (eds.). Narratives of Illness and Healing. Berkeley: University of California Press
Forchhammer, H. & Nissen, M. 1994. Psykologiske Sundhedsbegreber i subjektvidenskabeligt perspektiv [Psychological concepts of health in the light of the science of the subject] . In: Jensen, U.J. (red.). Sundhedsbegrebet i praksis [The concept of health in practice]. Århus: Philosophia, pp. 139 - 179
Foucault, M. 1977. Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. London: Penguin Books
Foucault, M. 1978. The History of Sexuality I. New York: Vintage Books
Hall, S. & Jefferson, T. (eds.) 1977. Resistance through Rituals. Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain. London/Birmingham: Hutchinson
Haug, W.F. 1979. Umrisse zu einer Theorie des Ideologischen. In: Projekt Ideologie-Theorie. Theorien über Ideologie. Berlin: Argument Verlag, p. 178-205
Holzkamp, K. 1983. Grundlegung der Psychologie. Frankfurt/New York: Campus Verlag
Højrup, T. 1983. The Concept of Life-mode. Ethnologia Scandinavica 1983, p. 15-50
Højrup, T. 1989. Det glemte folk. Livsformer og centraldirigering. [The Forgotten People. Life-Modes and Central Ruling]. Hørsholm: Institut for europæisk Folkelivsforskning, Statens Byggeforskningsinstitut.
Latour, B. In press. Touching the untouchable Factishes or can we do politics without the critique? Paris: Stencil
Markard, M. 1984. SUFKI - theoretische Grundlage und methodische Entwicklung. Forum kritische Psychologie 14, 56-81.
Newman, F. 1991. The Politics and Psychology of Addiction. Practice 8:1, 9-18
Nissen, M. 1994. Brugerindflydelse og handlesammenhænge i psykosocialt arbejde [User Influence and Action Contexts in Psycho-Social Work]. PhD-thesis, University of Copenhagen
Nissen, M. 1997. Conditions for User Influence in a Social Development Project. Nordiske Udkast 25:1
Schriewer, K. 1993. Die strukturelle Lebensformanalyse. Ein Beitrag zur volkskundlichen Theoriediskussion. Marburg: Arbeitskreis Volkskunde und Kulturwissenschaften
Schultze, N. 1980. Heroinsucht - ein Abwehrmechanismus? Forum kritische Psychologie 6, 184-195
Whetherell, M. & Potter, J. 1992. Mapping the Language of Racism. New York/London: Harvester Wheatsheaf
Winsløw, J.H. 1984. Narreskibet. En rejse i stofmisbrugerens selskab fra centrum til periferi i det danske samfund. [The ship of fools. A journey in the company of the addict from the centre to the margin of Danish society]. Holte: SocPol
Winsløw, J.H. 1991. Videnskabelig hverdag. [Scientific daily
life] Holte: SocPol
Back to top page