Accepted Paper:

Freedom in quarantine? A case of 'voluntary' confinement in a therapeutic community  


Lorenzo Urbano (Politecnico di Milano)

Paper short abstract:

What happens when confinement is, in a way, a choice of the confined? Reflecting on my ethnographic experience in a therapeutic community for drug addicts, this paper aims to explore the interplay between ideas of 'confinement', 'choice', and 'responsibility'.

Paper long abstract:

"You can always choose to leave. No one is stopping you. No one is keeping you". Each time one of the patients (or, rather, "guests", as they are officially called) of the therapeutic community in which I'm doing my fieldwork complains about something, this is the response she gets from the director. Individual choice and willingness is a fundamental component in this kind of addiction therapy, and yet all of the patients, in one way or another, talk of their experience as confinement, even a sort of imprisonment. But then again, very few actually leave.

In this paper I wish to reflect on what it means to choose — not once, but every day — to be confined as a therapeutic strategy, and how this confinement shapes the experience of addiction as a sickness and especially an illness. Especially because this confinement is not just a form of damage reduction, but it's supposed to be the cornerstone of the reconstruction of the addict's moral subjectivity, the first step towards his transformation into a better, "saner", person, and towards the recognition of his moral responsibility in the therapeutic process. How do this responsibility, this "freedom of choice", square with the subtraction of agency in a confinement situation? Finally, how can this voluntary, however wavering, confinement become the basis for a long-term therapeutic alliance, the turning point of the addict's moral breakdown (Zigon 2015)?

Panel P004
Confinement as a category of practice and a category of analysis [Anthropology of Confinement Network]