Set and Setting: Contextualising the Lives and Interviews of Recovering Heroin Users and their Researchers
(The University of Glasgow)
Paper short abstract:
In this paper I use Timothy Leary's 'set and setting' as an analytical lens through which to view interviews with recovering heroin users in the UK. Through drawing out intrinsic and extrinsic elements which contribute to the journey of both interviewer and interviewee, I explore the implications of interviewer and interviewee meeting at a particular moment in an asymmetric but intertwined pair of journeys: one of learning about recovery through others; one of learning about recovery through oneself.
Paper long abstract:
Timothy Leary, in The Psychedelic Experience (1964), coined the phrase 'set and setting' to describe the context for psychoactive drug experiences. 'Set' referred to factors such as mood or personality influencing the person taking the drug, and 'setting', the physical, social and cultural setting for the encounter. In this paper I draw on Leary's notion of 'set and setting' to explore the significance of context for interviewing recovering heroin users, but also to unpack what we mean by 'context' in an interview encounter. While for Leary, the presence of other people was just one aspect of 'setting', in an interview both interviewer and interviewee form part of one another's 'setting', each are influenced by 'set'. It is possible, however, to view 'set' as more than a collection of attributes, but as part of a developmental journey. Interviewer and interviewee meet at a particular moment in an asymmetric but intertwined pair of journeys: one of learning about recovery through others; one of learning about recovery through oneself. The aspects which contribute to 'setting' - cultural context, social relations, physical environment - shape and are shaped by the priorities of interviewer (such as researcher safety or meeting participants' families) and interviewee (such as privacy or feeling safe in a treatment setting). Thus, 'set' and 'setting' feed into one another, and Leary's provides us with a powerful lens through which to view the unique and irreproducible event than is an interview.
Interviews as situated practices: places, contexts, and experiences