Heroin Addiction in Austerity Britain

View Segments Segment :

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Embed
  • Link
  • Help
  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Embed
  • Link
  • Help
Successfully saved clip
Find all your clips in My Lists
Failed to save clip
  • Transcript
  • Transcript

    Auto-Scroll: ONOFF 
    • 00:05

      [Heroin Addiction in Austerity Britain]

    • 00:10

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN: My name's Doctor Steve Wakeman,and I'm a lecturer in criminologyin the School of Humanities and Social Science at LiverpoolJohn Moores University. [Dr. Stephen Wakeman, Lecturer,School of Humanities and Social Science,Liverpool John Moores University][Heroin use in England: An (auto)ethnographical studyof drug addiction]In this case study, I am going to talk about drugs and drugaddiction.Specifically, heroin and heroin addiction in what'sfrequently termed austerity Britain.

    • 00:31

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: I'm taking a sociological approachto understanding the issue.I want to talk about it based on a piece of researchI conducted between 2011 and 2015on a housing estate not too far from Liverpool.And with a group of heroin and crack cocaine usersand dealers.[Background]The purpose of the research was three prong.

    • 00:54

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: I was interested in three key things.The first of them was the exact nature,the changing nature of heroin addiction in austerity Britain.Traditionally, heroin addiction and drug addictionas been understood by sociologists,has been quite closely linked up with social exclusion.And during the 1980s, we saw an increase

    • 01:14

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: in levels of heroin addiction in the UKat a time of rising unemployment and whencheap brown heroin became available from Asian nationsin the UK.So we quite quickly linked up that therewas something to do with deindustrialization and risinglevels of unemployment and increasing levels of heroinuse.And this formed the kind of orthodox knowledgefor quite some time.

    • 01:36

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: However, in recent years, since the 2007, 2008 financial crash,we've seen double, even triple dip recessions in the UK.We've seen greater numbers of unemployment.We've seen rising numbers of social exclusion,et cetera, et cetera.Yet we've see levels of heroin addiction,or recorded levels of heroin use and addiction,actually fall and go down.So this presented a number of questions

    • 01:56

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: around the socioeconomic roles of heroinand the exact nature of the use of this drug in the UK.Questions that I hope to answer through this research.The second of questions was around addiction.There are a number of areas in which addiction is theorized.Psychologists have their theories,biologists have their theories, sociologists

    • 02:17

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: have that theories.Yet there remains a lot of contested knowledgearound what it's actually like to be addicted to heroin.What the process is and lived experiences of addictionare like.So I was very much interested in that.Seeing if I could capture that and enhance knowledge,in that sense.And learn a little bit about the core natureof being a heroin addict.

    • 02:38

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: Because of course we know that not everyone who takes heroinbecomes addicted to it.And the idea that it's this demon drug thatwill enslave you from your first sniffis just ridiculous, basically.It's drug war propaganda.We've known for many, many years that some people can use heroinrecreationally.Some people can use heroin infrequently,

    • 02:58

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: and face very little in the way of consequences for doing so.However, on the other side of that,there also seems to be a small sectionof users who can't do that.And who for whatever reason, seemto lose control of their consumption.And for whatever reason, face increased trials and increasedtribulations and increased problems related to their use.So I was very much interested in that group,

    • 03:18

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: and seeing if I could explain their addictionand see if I could explain and learn a little bit moreabout that.The third set of questions was around drug policy.Was not specifically, in this era of austerity,in this changing kind of global drug policy forum, if you like,what can we do differently?And there have many, many changesto drug policy around the world.

    • 03:38

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: We live in quite an exciting time for drug policy change.We've seen things happening in South America,we've seen things happening in the United States of America,we've seen decriminalization throughout many areasof Europe.We've seen a rising market for legally bought drugson the internet.Prohibition as we know it is not likely to last much longer now.Things are going to change this field.

    • 04:00

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: So we have what my supervisor and colleague Toby Seddoncalled a set of tough questions to ask about what we do next,in terms of our drug policy.And so I wanted to answer some of those questionsthrough this research, in terms of this group.In terms of the lowest group, if you like.The most excluded and most marginalizedgroup of drug users, what do they need from a drug policy?

    • 04:21

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: What are going to be the likely impacts, good and bad,of changes in policy on this particular group?So the case study today is about very muchanswering those questions throughauthoethnographic engagement with this population.[Methodological approach]Before I talk about the substantive findingsand answer those questions, I just

    • 04:41

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: need to give a couple of details about the methodologicalapproach taken in the research.And as I said, it was based on a deprived, quite marginalizedhousing estate in the northwest of England,not too far from here.And I used what are called (auto)ethnographic methods.[(Auto)ethnographic methods]It was an ethnographic approach in that I went outinto the community, I met people,

    • 05:02

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: and I spent time with them.I hung out with them.I went where they went, I did but they did, to a degree.However, it was also an autoethnographic approachin that I have some past experience of addictionto these drugs myself.So I used this, what I call intersection between biography,fieldwork, and emotion.I used the data I collected in the field, the participant

    • 05:23

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: observation data I recorded, pages and pagesof detailed field notes.After every day in the field, I would write upin a detailed account of what happened,who said what, where we went, what we did.Totaling, towards the end, nearly 70,000 wordsworth of field notes.And I analyzed this with, of course,to existing theories of drug addiction

    • 05:43

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: and my own past biography.And I've wrote about that in my published work, whichwe'll direct you towards at the end of this case study.Basically, in terms of methods, itinvolved going onto an estate with a group of users,watching what they did, asking them questions about it,and very much trying to learn from them and their experiencesas they occurred out in the community.

    • 06:04

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: Rather than inviting them into a university or another settingto ask questions in an interview.I thought a more organic, ethnographic approachwas the way to go here and learn about these questions.[Key findings 1: The 'moral economy of heroin']In terms of the findings, in terms of what I actuallyfound, that the first one is really about my first question,

    • 06:26

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: which is around the changing nature of heroin in this thingwe call austerity Britain.And what I've found is that these change in rates of usecan probably be explained, or I thinkcan be explained, with, of course,to what I term, or rather what the American anthropologistPhilippe Bourgois terms, a moral economy of heroin.What this means is that heroin exists

    • 06:48

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: on this particular estate and on others like it,as a commodity in a moral economic system.We have to remember who we're talking about,in terms of my research sample.They're all many older users who,paradox users, whose levels of useisn't actually going down at the same levelas the overall user groups is.

    • 07:08

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: The 35 to 35 plus age group, their levels of useis increasing slightly year on year, against the trend.And they're not only this.They're quite marginalized, quite disadvantaged.Some of them have mental health issues.Some of them have problems of unemployment.They are already facing a multitudeof social difficulties.

    • 07:29

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: And what I found was that heroin actuallyprovided some sort of solution to these problems,in this moral economic order.Traditional social structures, traditional societyif you like, had somewhat faded away for this group.Yet they have society and they have socialitythrough their interactions around heroin.The moral economy works, quite simply,

    • 07:49

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: as a basic system of exchange.In that, if I give you a little bit of heroin today,you give me a little bit of heroin tomorrow.Heroin addiction is quite expensive.The users I met in the field typicallyspend between 10 and 50 pounds on heroin every day.These people are all dependent upon social security benefitsto live.They couldn't afford to keep those habits based

    • 08:10

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: within their financial means.So they trade with one another.They do little things for one another.For example, on this particular estate,not all the drug dealers will sell to everybody,because it's only a small estate and theydon't want to gain the attention of the police.Some of the smaller user dealers will only serve,or they sell to, a small number of the heroin using population.

    • 08:33

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: If you happen to be one of those users,you have a valuable commodity to trade,in that you can go and get heroinoff one of these dealers for somebody else,and they will give you a little tiny bit in return.Also if you happen to have a flator you happen to have a bedsit that you can let people into inject in, you have a commodity that you can trade.They will give you a little bit of heroinin return for that particular service.

    • 08:54

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: So what I started to see quite quickly,was that there's a complex gift-giving economythe supports people's heroin use.It's instrumental, in the sense that it allows peopleto keep their habits over and above their materialconditions, if you like.Over and above their financial circumstances.But there's more to it than that.It becomes more important in this austere

    • 09:17

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: climate of the current UK, where people might not have a job.They might not have much in the way of a family.They might not have much of a social life.Very excluded, very marginalized usersdon't tend to have that great filled social calendars.However, the moral economy of heroin,it provides that for them.One flat that I spent a lot of time in,

    • 09:38

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: there were always people knocking on the door.There were always people who come in.People who needed the user who lived there to go scorefor them, or just wanted to have an injection on the couch,or who wanted to sell some stolen goods, whowanted to do all these things.And yes, this allowed this particular userto charge a little bit of heroin to do those things for them.But it also meant that he had a continuous stream of people

    • 09:59

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: coming through his house.So he could talk, he could engage with socially.If, for example, he stopped taking heroinand he wasn't involved in this moral economy anymore,there wouldn't be people knocking on his door.So his levels of marginalization,his levels of exclusion, would increase somewhat.So paradoxically a sight to see that heroin was notnecessarily understood by them as a cause of life's problems.

    • 10:21

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: It was actually acting as a solution to them, in many ways.The larger of problems of exclusion,the larger problems of marginalizationthat these older users faced, was solved by participationin heroin's moral economy.[Key findings 2: A typology of heroin addicts]The second key finding that's come out researchis related to my second question,

    • 10:41

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: around the nature of heroin addiction today.What I observed there was that thereare a lot of different ways and a lotof different understandings that individualshave of their heroin addiction.This is hardly groundbreaking.There are many, many people who have come upwith different types of addicts, different typologiesor different approaches to drugs.

    • 11:03

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: But I think I was able to find something thatwas useful and contributes to the debatehere, somewhat through this is typology that I developed.I started to see that there were addict subjectivities, as Icalled them, and that is the addict'ssubjective understanding of their worldis divided by this kind of four-fold typology.

    • 11:24

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: There are those that are active and aggressivein their approach to their addiction.And there were those that are morekind of passive and resistant, passiveand submissive in their approaches to their addiction.If I just give you a quick example of each one of thoseand why I think they might be useful.There are some users who go out and pursue heroinin an active and aggressive stance.

    • 11:47

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: One, for example, was a 31-year-old manwho was known on the estate as being very criminally prolific,as being very physically strong, as being aggressive,as being a fighter.He had a reputation for violence.And he would go out and do what he needto do every day to get heroin.He once told me, in quite chilling terms,that he wouldn't rattle, he wouldn't withdraw for anybody.

    • 12:09

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: And he said if that means he's got to wake up in the morning,he's going to go out and snatch a handbag,then he's going to go out and snatch a handbag.And I was given no indications to believethat he might be lying about thator it might be bravado in any way.He would go out each day, he would shoplift.He would do street robberies.He would rip off of drug dealers.He would steal from drug users.

    • 12:30

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: He would engage in any type of criminal activityhe needed to, to get what he thought heneeded for that particular day.His approach was very active.His approach was very aggressive.You would see him walking with a purposeful stride.He meant what he did.And it became part of his self persona,this kind of resistant, criminallyactive, transgressive hustler who

    • 12:50

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: could, against all the odds, maintain a 50 pound heroinhabit every single day.In this sense, I think understanding himas an aggressive, active addict is particularly useful.Because that side of his characteris very, very dear to him.It's an identity that he's crafted.It's an identity that he holds on to.And I saw many other users like that,

    • 13:12

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: that this active, aggressive stance.They would go out and they would dowhatever they needed to do to get that bit of heroin.If it was criminal, so be it.However conversely, on the other hand,there were often other users who didn't take those approach.Most heroin users I met were involvedin some sort of acquisitive crime, but not all.Not by any means all.

    • 13:33

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: In fact, some of them-- and there's an age difference here.The active aggressive users tended to be younger.The more passive, submissive users tended to be older.Where uses like my core participant whowere kind of active, in that they got up and they went outand they did things, but it was more submissive.It was more passive and they weren't criminally active.They wouldn't steal from another individual.

    • 13:53

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: They had the belief that it was wrong to burgle houses.They may take something from a shop if the opportunity arose,but for the most part, they wouldn'tengage in these kind of active criminal prolific activitiesto procure money.What they would do, is they would do service workin the moral economy.They would offer their skills, their social capital.This one individual always knew where to sell something.

    • 14:15

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: If you took stolen goods to him, he could make a phone calland he could sell anything, virtually anything,there and then.And he would trade that commodity.In return for him selling three DVD place for you,you would give him a little bit of the herointhat you bought with the money.He would also allow you to do it in his house.The kind of things that I've talked about already today.These tradable commodities in a moral economy.

    • 14:35

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: The more passive, submissive, older usersused these approaches more than the younger ones did.This is important, I think, in thatit helps us explain why there's some variation in the recordedlevels of heroin use.We're gonna start to see that the more aggressive, youngeruser, the reason why their use might be falling awaycould be tied up with the declining levels of crime

    • 14:56

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: in the UK.The reason why the older group's heroin useis increasing somewhat and not falling away at the same rate,could be wrapped up with the importanceof this moral economy too then, in terms of getting by,and their general social life.The truth of the matter is that for manyof the older individuals, if you remove themfrom the moral economy, their life skills are rendered

    • 15:18

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: useless to them in any sense.So we start to see the link between these addicts'subjectivities, aggressive, passive,and this moral economic order that exists around heroin.And I think these are really, really useful featuresfor understanding this type of drug use sociologically.For understanding this type of addiction sociologically.It's wrapped up with actions and interactions

    • 15:39

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: on a small individual scale, but also on a larger, wider,social scale.In the particular context of a very marginalized, verydisadvantaged estate in austerity Britain.[Key findings 3: Changing drug policy]And finally, the last key findingsto come out of my research is related to my key point3 from before around drug policy.

    • 16:01

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: And this is kind of an interesting one.It's a kind of ongoing area in which I'm working,in which I'm theorizing.As I've already talked about, thereare certain questions that can beposed about the future direction of drug policy in the UK.It's likely that we're going to see significant reformin the coming years.Which way that will go is very much still up for debate.

    • 16:24

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: However, what I think I can do, isI can start to add some input to these debatesbased on the experiences of these groups.There are a lot of campaign groups and there a lotof pressure groups who call for the decriminalization of drugsand who call for the legalization of drugs.And to be clear, I think these are probably a good idea.I think these are the way forward.

    • 16:45

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: The prohibition of these substanceshasn't done any good.It's caused more problems through criminalization,it increases marginalization, it increasesthe social disadvantages users face.However, key caveat here based on this research,is often when we hear calls for the decriminalization of drugsor the legalization of drugs, they're

    • 17:06

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: from more middle class, more socially affluent, moreadvantaged groups who wish to use drugslike ecstasy, cannabis, and cocaine in the relativelynon-problematic way they already do.If we are to decriminalize, or if we were to legally regulatea drug like heroin, in areas like the one my research is

    • 17:28

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: based in, that could adversely affect these users.It could adversely affect them in a number of ways.It links back to this thing around the moral economyand the extent to which this doesprovide a meaningful social system for these users.If, for example, you have a user like the oneI spent a lot of time with, whose almost entire

    • 17:51

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: social world is wrapped up around heroin,who has a unique set of skills, which means he can survivehis material circumstances, then the heroin market changesin that way that it would based on decriminalizationor legalization, then his skills become useless.And the skills and the benefits of moral economy

    • 18:13

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: brings extend well over heroin.I need to be clear about that.For example, if we're thinking about thisin terms of the wider discourses of sociology and social change,we need to remember that the marginalizationand exclusion was that first.Because of his participation in heroin's moral economy,he's able to borrow five pounds off another userto put some electricity on in his flat

    • 18:34

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: and turn his heat on in the middle of January.If this particular individual wasn't involvedin heroin's moral economy, if it didn't exist in the wayit would because we've started to prescribingheroin or legally regulating it, thenhe perhaps wouldn't have anyone to approachfor the loan of five pounds.The illicit market, as problematicas it is, it provides a set of coping strategies,

    • 18:56

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: it provides a set of tools that the very marginalized and verydependent users can use to improvetheir social circumstances.I'm not saying that we should continue with prohibition.What I am saying is that I think debates about drug policytoo often continue without due recognition beingpaid to the users at the very bottom of the social spectrum.

    • 19:18

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: These are the ones who are already most adversely affectedby the current arrangement.There's a very real possibility that theycould be negatively impacted upon by revised policyamendments, too.And we need to give increased consideration of these.And I don't think that we've quite got there just yet.[Conclusion]In terms of conclusion of this case study,

    • 19:38

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: the key questions that were raisedwere around the nature of heroin addiction in austerity Britainand were around the future of drug policy.These can be understood in terms of three key findings.The first of these being that heroin use and heroin addictionexists in what we call a complex moral economy.

    • 19:59

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: It's not just an isolated group of individualsselfishly taking heroin to their own end.It's actually a quite complicated systemof exchange of reciprocity, whichcan only exist in relation to users helping each other out.The moral economy of heroin is cruciallyimportant to understanding it.That is, in terms of understandinghow heroin functions and how it survives in the UK,

    • 20:22

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: we need to understand it sociologicallyin terms of its social and socioeconomic meanings and usesbeyond its actual use value as a drug.Second one is around the contested natureof addict subjectivities.It's not just enough to say that he or she isaddicted to that drug.There are multiple approaches, contested approaches,

    • 20:43

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: to undertaking drug addiction.Because somebody's active and aggressive in their drugaddiction today doesn't mean theywon't be passive and submissive in their drug addictionin a few weeks, months, years' time.People go through different stages of their addictions.It's an immensely complicated sociological issue.And to understand it as a one sizefits all manner just isn't applicable here.

    • 21:07

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: And the third question is around policy.And particularly the social policyaround drugs and drug addiction, and whatwe do about this in the future.I've talked a bit today about the factthat there is a contested future and a rapidly evolving future.The key point or the conclusion here to reach is this.There are many, many heroin and crack users in the UK today

    • 21:27

      DR. STEPHEN WAKEMAN [continued]: who are already facing significant levelsof social exclusion.Policy change may benefit them, yes.But it also may impact on them negatively.So we need to make sure we give due recognition and due accordto the users who are already facing the greatestproblems of marginalization as we changeour policies for everyone.

Heroin Addiction in Austerity Britain

View Segments Segment :


Professor Stephen Wakeman discusses the society that exists among heroin users in Britain. He examines how addicts may use social capital to overcome limited financial constraints in the face of addiction and what the decriminalization of drugs may mean to this already marginalized sector of the community.

SAGE Video Cases
Heroin Addiction in Austerity Britain

Professor Stephen Wakeman discusses the society that exists among heroin users in Britain. He examines how addicts may use social capital to overcome limited financial constraints in the face of addiction and what the decriminalization of drugs may mean to this already marginalized sector of the community.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website

Back to Top