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Accepted Paper:

Drugs, harm reduction and Covid-19 - whom does care serve?  
Johannes Lenhard (University of Cambridge) Eana Meng (Harvard University)

Paper short abstract:

Drugs are an item of deviance and transgression; taking care of ‘addicts’ with for instance harm reduction is hence (still) a disputed kind of care. In this paper, we analyze how measures taken during the COVID-19 pandemic further intensified the blurry lines between care and coercion.

Paper long abstract:

Drugs are quintessentially an item of deviance and transgression; taking care of ‘addicts’ is, as a result, (still) a disputed kind of care. What does the right care look like that is not encouraging the addiction? While many systems still largely enact punitive and prosecutorial measures, others have moved in the direction of harm reduction. The latter set of practices, ranging from needle and syringe exchanges and acupuncture to safe injection facilities and methadone programmes, admits the ‘addicted person’ into a supposed care environment. But only in its most extreme forms (namely, safe injection sites) are substances allowed in. In all other cases, care fundamentally includes transgressing boundaries. In our research, we ask, how is this relationship further complicated by the arrival of COVID-19? Based on ethnographic fieldwork during the lockdown phase of the pandemic in the United Kingdom in various homelessness institutions, we analyze the ways in which care for people struggling with addiction was increasingly made transgressive. Institutions and people constantly grappled with the blurry ethical, legal, and moral boundaries between care and coercion; how to weigh caring for the majority of inhabitants with the needs of the minority (of the substance user who needed to go out regularly?) Can eviction of the rule-breaker in favour of non-drug users be understood as care? Where does the duty of care lay, and how do measures taken in the name of care be further punitive and perpetuate stigma? Ultimately, how do we define care and whom does it serve?

Panel Heal01a
Care as act of transgression I
  Session 1