Towards an affective harm reduction: an ethnographic account of care, pleasure, and atmosphere within a German drug consumption room

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Sebar, Bernadette M

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Duff, Cameron J

Lee, Jessica

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This thesis presents an analysis of the embodied, messy, and situated taking place of a drug consumption room in Frankfurt, Germany. My analysis is grounded in an immersive ethnographic engagement with the everyday operations of this consumption room and a sense that much of the complex detail of ‘what happens’ within these sites remains under-theorised and under-explored. I argue that a prevailing interest in quantifying the efficacy of consumption room interventions has left considerable gaps in our understanding of how these sites work and how they are embodied, negotiated, and constituted in everyday experience. In response, this thesis attempts to fundamentally re-think ‘what is it that’s going on’ within drug consumption rooms, drawing on recent strands of posthuman thinking. These interests are cultivated and explored through a novel ethnographic account comprising 12 months of participation within a German drug consumption room known as La Strada, along with in-depth interviews with service staff and clients and photographic and auto-photographic methods. I present the findings of my ethnographic material in three parts, focusing on three distinctive features of service delivery at La Strada. The first chapter explores relations of pleasure, the second of care, and the third considers how the site’s distinctive atmospheric properties mediate experiences of consumption and social support. Together these chapters illuminate the social, affective, and material conditions through which the experience and effects of the consumption room are realised. By foregrounding the intensely affective, contingent, and relational character of consumption room engagement, my findings offer a more nuanced understanding of how these sites variably cut off or sustain care in circumstances of extreme disadvantage. Yet they also pose a unique set of ethico-political considerations regarding stigma, disadvantage, and social inclusion with profound implications for how we currently enact, study, and value these sites. The thesis closes by reflecting on these ethico-political implications, arguing for a more affective mode of harm reduction alert to the embodied experience of consumption room service delivery and the ways these services might be made otherwise to more directly address experiences of stigma and social disadvantage.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Medicine

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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drug consumption room

immersive ethnographic engagement

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