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Understanding contexts: Methods and analysis in ethnographic research on drugs

Northcote, J. and Moore, D. (2010) Understanding contexts: Methods and analysis in ethnographic research on drugs. In: Miller, P.G., Strang, J. and Miller, P.M., (eds.) Addiction Research Methods. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 287-298.

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As evidenced by the diverse chapters in this book, research on drugs encompasses many different methodologies. While these approaches provide invaluable insights into drug use – for example, its epidemiology, neurobiology and psychology – they sometimes neglect a critical dimension of drug use: how drug use is understood by drug users themselves. Ethnographic approaches to the study of drug use aim to provide rich descriptions of the ‘cultural logics’ constructed and enacted by drug users and the complex intersections between these cultural logics and wider social, economic and policy processes. Ethnography has made important contributions to the drug field through:

• explaining apparently ‘irrational’ or risky drug-related practices;
• documenting the negative impact of poorly designed policy on drug-related harm;
• providing important data on ‘hidden populations’;
• contributing to multidisciplinary research; and
• informing the design of drug policy that targets cultural and social contexts (Moore, 2005).

Item Type: Book Chapter
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Publisher: Blackwell
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