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Scripting Addiction

Scripting Addiction: The Politics of Therapeutic Talk and American Sobriety

E. Summerson Carr
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Scripting Addiction
    Book Description:

    Scripting Addictiontakes readers into the highly ritualized world of mainstream American addiction treatment. It is a world where clinical practitioners evaluate how drug users speak about themselves and their problems, and where the ideal of "healthy" talk is explicitly promoted, carefully monitored, and identified as the primary sign of therapeutic progress. The book explores the puzzling question: why do addiction counselors dedicate themselves to reconciling drug users' relationship to language in order to reconfigure their relationship to drugs?

    To answer this question, anthropologist Summerson Carr traces the charged interactions between counselors, clients, and case managers at "Fresh Beginnings," an addiction treatment program for homeless women in the midwestern United States. She shows that shelter, food, and even the custody of children hang in the balance of everyday therapeutic exchanges, such as clinical assessments, individual therapy sessions, and self-help meetings. Acutely aware of the high stakes of self-representation, experienced clients analyze and learn to effectively perform prescribed ways of speaking, a mimetic practice they call "flipping the script."

    As a clinical ethnography,Scripting Addictionexamines how decades of clinical theorizing about addiction, language, self-knowledge, and sobriety is manifested in interactions between counselors and clients. As an ethnography of the contemporary United States, the book demonstrates the complex cultural roots of the powerful clinical ideas that shape therapeutic transactions--and by extension administrative routines and institutional dynamics--at sites such as "Fresh Beginnings."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3665-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION Considering the Politics of Therapeutic Language
    (pp. 1-22)

    Imagine you are an exile in a foreign land and have been diagnosed with what the natives consider to be an incurable, if treatable, disease. This disease is characterized by the inability to use language to express what you think and how you feel. You are now being treated by local specialists who work to rehabilitate your relationship to language. Through a complex set of traditional ceremonial practices, the specialists teach you how to use words, phrases, and, eventually, entire plotted narratives that reference and reveal your inner states. This rigorous pedagogical program, which you have been told is therapeutic,...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Identifying Icons and the Policies of Personhood
    (pp. 23-48)

    On a sunny August morning in 1996, flanked by two broadly smiling, casually dressed African American women,¹ President Bill Clinton “ended welfare as we kn[e]w it” with a resolved stroke of his pen. Though the blossoming scene of the White House Rose Garden and the beaming smiles of the chosen cast of characters suggested that America’s poor and downtrodden had finally found their way under the sun, the “end of welfare” was terribly unseasonable. Despite the New Democratic² promise to dismantle the federal AFDC program only if and when the state could guarantee affordable health care, a living wage, and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Taking Them In and Talking It Out
    (pp. 49-84)

    Shelly said that if I had twenty more minutes of tape she would list all the eviction notices she had collected over the years. Much to the delight of her friends at the Alano Club, where she attended AA meetings and worked as a cashier, Shelly had a lot of “war stories”—almost always involving drugs and usually costarring her husband, Jack, who was locked up again, “this time for a good long while.” These stories reached back forty years to her days in grade school, where she said she “never did really learn to read and write like I...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Clinographies of Addiction
    (pp. 85-120)

    In a 1989 interview with Jacques Derrida, conducted eight years after he was accused by the Czechoslovakian government of trafficking drugs, the French philosopher and father of deconstruction put forward one of his most spirited and overtly political attacks on logocentrism—that is, the assumption that Truth is independent of its representation. In working to reverse the logocentric privileging of the spoken word as the primary expression, and therefore presence, of Truth over writing as secondary, derivative, and dependent upon speech for its meaning, Derrida enlisted the figure of the addict as a stand-in for the maverick writer whom he...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Addicted Indexes and Metalinguistic Fixes
    (pp. 121-150)

    As Tealie indicates above, therapy at Fresh Beginnings was predicated on talk. Indeed, behavioral exercises and recreational activities played a secondary role in this “talk, talk, talk place,” much to some clients’ dismay. Over the years the minutes of Client Advisory Committee meetings documented clients’ frustration with the monotony of “always talking,” as well as their regular requests for fieldtrips, relapse prevention training, and guest speakers. Therapists, in turn, made sporadic if earnest efforts to respond by introducing alternative therapeutic activities. Such changes in routine, however, were commonly hindered by financial constraints, staffing shortages, and complicated logistical matters beyond therapists’...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Therapeutic Scenes on an Administrative Stage
    (pp. 151-189)

    According to Bruno Latour, contemporary politics has been strangled by a pernicious entanglement of two meanings of the term “representation”: representation as the gathering of legitimate political actors and representation as the accurate portrayal of an object of interest.¹ He writes, “For too long, objects have been wrongly portrayed as matters-of-fact. This is unfair to them, unfair to science, unfair to objectivity, unfair to experience” (Latour and Weibel 2005:19). The alternative, he posits, is a form of democratic gathering in which interested assertions, rather than putatively transparent facts, are the currency of political exchange.

    In advocating a revision ofRealpolitik...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Flipping the Script
    (pp. 190-223)

    I first heard the term “flipping the script” one summer afternoon, ten months into my formal fieldwork.¹ Nikki and Shauna were engaged in an intensive, hushed, but clearly entertaining exchange, as the rest of us quietly lounged against the cool stone steps of the porch on Cliff Street, watching people pass by. I gathered little about the conversation at the time, except that it seemed to involve an encounter one of the two women had had with a social worker (perhaps within the Homeless Family Consortium, but this was also unclear). A couple of months later I had the opportunity...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 224-238)

    Scripting Addictionhighlights what mainstream American addiction treatment reveals about American ideologies of language and personhood. Taking Fresh Beginnings to be a distillery where cultural ideals are processed and reproduced in purified form, the book elaborates six theoretical points, briefly reviewed below.

    First, we have witnessed the sheer amount of work it takes to put dominant cultural ideologies of language into practice and thereby reinforce their authority. For instance, by identifying, categorizing, and filtering linguistic impurities, therapists rigorously refine what is commonly taken to be a natural and normal way of speaking—or, what I call “the ideology of inner...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 239-278)
  14. References
    (pp. 279-316)
  15. Index
    (pp. 317-323)