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  The Analysis of Drug Discourse

    John Booth Davies



1   Explaining Addiction
2   Drug Taking and the Laws of Nature
3   Diagnostic Criteria: Scientific Definition
      or Functional Discourse?
4   The Status of the Verbal Report
5   Social Criterion Analysis
6   Modelling Drugspeak
7   Drug Discourses
8   Predicting Behaviour from Speech
9   Conclusions

Drugspeak  © 1997 by OPA
  (Overseas Publishers Association), Amsterdam B.V.
Published by:
Harwood Academic Publishers
The Gordon and Breach Publishing Group

ISBN 90-5702-192-7

The above selected chapters appear in
The Schaffer Library and The Psychedelic Library
by permission of the Publisher

This book may be ordered online from:

Harwood Academic Publishers

Paper: EUR 17 / GBP 12 / USD $20
Cloth: EUR 35 / GBP 27 / USD $42


When I was three years old I had a rabbit called Peter. He died in the middle of a thunderstorm, and everyone said it was a heart attack. They told me he was dead, but I did not fully accept their opinions. When I asked them how they knew he was dead they could only present reasons that, so far as I could see, were entirely circumstantial and depended crucially on definitions of 'dead' that I felt were highly arbitrary. Of course, at the time I could not articulate these misgivings, so I just stood there and said "No he's not". I continued to feed him and take him for walks, though I was forced to acknowledge that he had gone very stiff and was suffering a certain loss of appetite. However, this in my view did not mean he was necessarily dead. I figured, or perhaps hoped, he might be doing it on purpose, that he wasn't so much in the grip of some dreadful state, as exercising his free will in an area I didn't fully understand for reasons that eluded me. He didn't move much, however, and I had to agree that, dead or not, a certain amount of the fun had gone out of the relationship. From a philosophical standpoint, the issue remains unresolved to this day. My family however found its resources severely taxed in devising covert and disguised methodologies for separating small boys from large dead rabbits with a minimum of fuss. This difficulty in accepting the completely obvious has always been one of my main failings.
    For reasons which are as much personal as scientific, I find myself either sceptical about, or deeply in disagreement with, much of what is written about the 'addicted' state. The personal reasons are neither deep nor fundamental. They centre around nothing more substantial than an unease about bodies of theory with which nearly everyone appears to agree; and a scientifically unacknowledgable conviction that when everyone agrees about something it must be wrong. At the very least, where the major conceptualisations of a phenomenon appear clear cut and plain for all to see, it is obviously high time for a concerted effort to pull the rug from under it. For example, along with theories of addiction, I also regret the fact that the theory of evolution, which is so obviously reasonable and makes sense of so much biodiversity, has not been the subject of more concerted and determined attempts to undermine it. It's too comfy; it's too rational; and if we are not careful we will be stuck with it for ever. And I just don't like the sound of that.
    I am also concerned about certain areas of social science methodology, and about the accumulation of 'scientific' work which piles up in a proliferating mass of journals. It appears to me that only a small proportion of it is likely to have lasting value. I suspect that, all too often, the real motivation is not to advance the cause of science at all, but to preserve or improve the ratings in the next research assessment exercise by whatever means are necessary. I do not think that is an appropriate driving force for genuine discovery or even deep discussion. I have also started to believe that a section of this literature, namely that which makes use of verbal reports of various kinds, might actually be misconceived, and therefore highly misleading as a guide for public policy. I am also intrigued as to why increasingly I find the most insightful and exciting material in novels and newspapers rather than psychology books, and I am thinking of recommending James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late It Was as the new basic text in social psychology.
    In a previous book, The Myth of Addiction, I expressed some strongly-held views about addiction, and obliquely about psychological studies of this alleged condition. I was quite angry about some of the things I felt were wrong with this particular illness-treatment-research cycle, but I think I managed to keep this under control for large sections of that book, and to appear 'scientific' and disinterested, rather than overly partisan. This time, I think I have not done quite so well, largely because my faith in an objective and disinterested science has been shaken to its foundations in recent times by the writings of a number of philosophers which, I confess to my shame, I have only recently read. As a result, I do not claim the ideas presented here are true, since I am now quite uncertain about what 'truth' is; but perhaps some people will find them challenging or at least worthy of a second glance. I believe that within the academic community there is a legitimate place for the novel (in both senses), the unorthodox, the anarchistic, the revolutionary and the downright scurrilous, without people becoming defensive and tightlipped because someone is trying to storm their castle. It appears that in some circles, for example, recent writings on the philosophy of science, post modernism, discourse analysis, the social construction of reality, and other topics, are seen as forces to be resisted or even denigrated, on the grounds that they threaten 'current knowledge', rather than as contributions which might expand upon and perhaps even revolutionise thinking and practise in certain areas. However, the progress of ideas is not facilitated by the dead hand of orthodoxy and uniformity. I leave the reader to decide in which category to place the present offering.
    Basically, this book seeks to extend the arguments of The Myth of Addiction by looking more closely at certain methodological and theoretical problems raised by that earlier work. The proposed methodological solution borrows heavily from the theory and methods of signal detection where analogous problems of dealing with variability in verbal reports are tackled via the notion of 'criterion for response'. A loosely analogous theory and method of 'social criterion analysis' is proposed, within which the verbal responses obtained in any individual data collection exercise are never viewed as definitive, but only as a sample taken from a range of such responses which vary according to the nature of the research method used. Any statement about what has been measured must thus be based on response variability over a range of settings, rather than on a fixed value obtained in only one.
    However, a need is also identified for a principled and replicable method of dealing with naturalistic discourse within the context of minimally-cued conversations, that avoids the arbitraryness and selective excesses of some qualitative research, without resorting once more to the mortmain of forced-choice questionnaire bashing. This, it seems to me, is a major gap in the methodological armoury of the social researcher; the notion that qualitative and quantitative methods, separated by veritable philosophical chasms, can simply be cobbled together side by side within the same research exercise simply will not do (Davies, 1996). In an attempt to bridge this gap, a framework for dealing with minimally structured conversations is suggested, based on the idea that the natural history of drug use is reflected in various recognisable types of functional discourse, produced by drug users at different stages of their drug-use careers. Within the proposed system, however, it is not necessary to make any assumptions about the 'real meaning' or 'truthfulness' of any piece of discourse. Our data show that the types of conversations described are certainly recognisable by others with a reasonable degree of consensus. They may also relate in a loose way to certain indices of outcome, though more evidence is required on this point.
    There is a long way to go however, and the thing we are working towards appears at the present time as a large beast in a fog. Different parts become visible from time to time; but they often disappear again under extended scrutiny, and there is no clear idea of what the whole beast looks like. Perhaps the fog will clear if we persevere long enough. Whilst those of us involved in the hunt have no clear idea where we shall end up, and the evidence is suggestive rather than convincing, we shall follow this beast since we are in no doubt that there is something interesting out there. We hope that others may join the pursuit.
    I would like to thank some friends, all of whom I believe struggle with these issues, for help, support, enthusiasm, new ideas (sometimes blinding and sometimes off-the-wall), and also a hint of madness. They are David Best, Steve McCarthy, Nick Heather, Fiona McConnachie, Doug Cameron, Ron McKechnie, Peter Cohen, David Shewan and Freek Polak. I owe particular thanks to Maria Crugeira and Linda Wright for restoring coherence to a data analysis that seemed likely to lose its way for a brief period. I would also wish to thank many others who, whilst possibly not sharing my views, have taken time on various occasions to discuss these ideas with me, and who have sometimes said something that has stuck in my mind, often over a period of several years. They include Ernie Drucker, Michael Gossop, Ray Hodgson, Bill Saunders, Mary McMurran, Jim Orford, Ian Hindmarch, Dick Eiser, Robert West, John Strang, Charles Lind, Bruce Ritson, Jonathon Potter, Judy Greenwood and many others. I am especially indebted to David Best and Maria Crugeira for major contributions to the development of the discursive model described in the latter sections of this book. Finally, I wish to thank the Scottish Office for funding a number of projects which collectively have given rise to the line of thinking described in the following pages.
    And I concede that I was wrong about the rabbit, but that's as far as I am prepared to go!

Chapter 1

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