International Journal of Drug Policy - 2014

Volume 25 Issue 3 May 2014

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Page 135 of 153

636 C. Duff / International Journal of Drug Policy 25 (2014) 633–639 into it in relations of movement and rest, practice and reaction (Malins, 2004). The folds by which spaces and bodies are de/re/territorialised are equally central to the distribution of affects between spaces and bodies, further indicating how the context of AOD use is expressed in an assemblage. Affects are critically important inso- far as they denote what bodies 'actually do' in a drug assemblage. Nevertheless, what 'bodies do' most certainly does not in every instance pertain to what bodies will or desire. The great empir- ical purchase of Deleuze's (1988) understanding of affect lies in his suggestion that affects describe what bodies become in their encounters with other bodies, human and nonhuman. Encounters modulate affects as they 'pass through' bodies, determining in and for the moment of their encounter what each body may be capa- ble of doing, enacting or being. This affective modulation involves a transfer of power, capacities or action-potential between bodies (Deleuze, 1988:123–28). Regardless of a body's 'nature', whether human or nonhuman, all bodies are affected by a panoply of other bodies in any particular encounter. Yet, just as bodies affect one another in place, bodies are inevitably affected by place, such that "context seems to be a vital element in the constitution of affect" (Thrift, 2004:60). Affects are experienced in bodies but expressed in encounters; encounters between bodies, between bodies and con- texts, bodies and places. Each encounter generates unique affective capacities in that no two encounters ever produce the same affec- tive modification in a body's scope of activity. Bodies are affected by place in each instance anew, with each encounter with place. The experience of place may thus be said to differ affectively with each novel encounter. All of which suggests that affective engagement with place, and with the "affective atmospheres" (Anderson et al., 2012) this engagement supports, is another of the primary mechanisms by which social contexts are territorialised and deterritorialised in an assemblage. The affects produced in the event of drug use reside neither in individual bodies, places or substances, but rather in the dynamic interaction of places, substance, bodies, contexts and sub- jects. It follows, therefore, that the affective function of context – the extent to which contexts may transform or mediate the event of AOD use – can never be discerned in advance of empirical anal- ysis of encounters in and with context (Duff, 2012). Refusing to posit context as a determinant of encounters in place is critical if the more active, aleatory and affective aspects of context are to be ade- quately understood. Contexts certainly mediate encounters with drugs, but only insofar as they contribute to the affective valence of events that transpire within a broader 'drug assemblage'. It is the particular spatial and temporal arrangement of settings, bod- ies and affects enacted in each event of AOD use that mediates the force of context, not the other way around. Context is as much an event as it is a coherent pattern of spatial, temporal and affective relations. Conceiving of contexts as an assemblage of spaces, bodies and affects provides a compelling new logic for the interrogation of individual drug use settings, and the broader contextualisation of drug related harm. The effort to reconceptualise context in terms of the assemblage should be understood as an attempt to return context to the focus of empirical research, rather than to retain it as a heuristic shorthand for the vagaries of power or culture. Indeed, the problem with so much of the existing litera- ture on context is that its heuristic value has fallen away sharply as context has congealed into a static, hypostasised synonym for 'power', 'structure' or 'society'. In the drugs field, 'structuralist' understandings of context mostly frustrate its operationalization as an object of empirical research, given the bewildering array of group norms, economic processes, social traditions and polit- ical relations now regarded as properties of context (Fitzgerald, 2009; Rhodes, 2009). Granted such expansive purview, structural approaches obscure the specificity of place and the particular means by which contexts shape local drug use behaviours. In response, I have argued that context should be characterised as an assem- blage of spaces, bodies and affects, whereby the grouping together of these elements inevitably mediates the ways contexts shape AOD use and related harms. The challenge now is to articulate how this approach may inform the development of new types of drug pol- icy, research and practice. Such is the goal of the case study offered below. The drug/work/housing/treatment/crisis assemblage (a case study) The challenge with context as it is typically deployed in social science accounts of AOD use is arguably one of connecting 'individ- ual' and 'society', 'practice' and 'setting', 'behaviour' and 'culture', 'consumption' and 'norms' in order to explain how cultural, politi- cal, economic or social forces mediate AOD use (Fitzgerald, 2009). Or, to pose the problem with recourse to a rival vocabulary, how to explain the social or structural determinants that produce (or mediate) AOD use? Yet what if one were to start with the con- nection rather than the subject (or its behaviours) as the basic unit of analysis? What if one were to prioritise analysis of the event of consumption rather than the drug user? These are the principal exhortations of an approach to the study of drugs and place mod- elled on the assemblage. Such an approach should permit novel analyses of what are typically regarded as the social and structural aspects of AOD use, revealing more of the force of context, without at the same time assuming a subject who comes to culture only to affect and be affected by it in the course of behaviours like AOD use. Following Deleuze, I would argue that drug use may be explained not in terms of a subject and its choices mediated in a web of social, economic and political structures, but rather in terms of an assem- blage of forces that produces both the subject of drug use and the effects of this use. It follows that conventional epistemological dis- tinctions such as structure/agent and object/subject impede, rather than facilitate, the work of producing empirically nuanced accounts of AOD use and the problems associated with it (Wilton & Moreno, 2012:100–102). A more compelling way of drawing these distinctions may be to contrast conventional understandings of 'social context' with that of the 'assemblage' in the analysis of qualitative data explor- ing the use of alcohol and other drugs. If the task occasioned by "assemblage thinking" is to rethink the context (and practice) of AOD use in terms of spaces, bodies and affects, then the focus of analysis must shift too from structures and subjects to events and relations (Anderson et al., 2012; DeLanda, 2006). What I would like to attempt, therefore, is an analysis, modelled on the assemblage, of the transition into AOD treatment drawn from a recent study of the social contexts of methamphetamine (MA) use in Melbourne (see Quinn, Stoové, Papanastasiou, & Dietze, 2013 for details). I will pri- marily detail the difference such analysis may make compared to findings that derive from recourse to more traditional understand- ings of the context, or social determinants, of MA use. My goal is to provide a coherent picture of the character of "assemblage think- ing", along with a clearer sense of how it may be applied to the study of AOD use. The passage below is taken from an interview with a middle aged male who reported regular MA use. It pertains, more directly, to the circumstances in which Bill (a pseudonym) first entered treatment for his MA use. I have selected this excerpt from among the 31 interviews partially for the richness of its account of the contexts of MA use, but also for its heuristic value, for what it reveals about the array of forces (human and nonhuman) active in AOD use. For these reasons it is worth citing the transcript at length before turning to its analysis.

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