Report on the University of Michigan Meeting on “Sex/Gender and Psychoactive Substances”

Longtime Points readers no doubt know that one of the blog’s founding interests lies in bridging (or breaching) the institutional, material, and conceptual boundaries that separate historians from on the one hand, policy/public health folks and, on the other, “brain scientists” and their ilk.  Joe Gabriel blogged about the difficulties of this project in an early post, and some of the tensions involved in the project were discussed in last winter’s symposium on David Courtwright’s recent article on “Addiction and the Science of History,” the last piece of which you can find here, with links back to the five installments. As a small group blog, Points is limited in what it can do about this silo-ing problem– we can point it out, and we can provide a venue for work that attempts to address it, but (apologies to all the technological utopians out there) we lack the institutional muscle necessary to really change the structures of knowledge production.

Fortunately for those of us who still hold out revolutionary hope for genuine inter- or cross-disciplinary work, somebody out there does seem to have such muscle and, equally important, the will to put it to good use.  Even better, Points editors Nancy Campbell, Michelle McClellan, and Trysh Travis have gotten hooked in with them.  We participated a couple of weeks ago in a small working conference on Sex/Gender and Psychoactive Substances, sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center and its Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and School of Social Work.

U. Michigan Working Conference

Along with about fifteen other researchers from a wide range of disciplines (full list of participants below), we talked quite candidly about the conceptual assumptions of our various disciplines, our institutions’ demands for certain “outputs” and “deliverables,” and our combined interest in and skepticism about one another’s research.   The conversation was structured around the topics of normative drug use, problem drug use, recovery and relapse, and we considered what we know and don’t know about these topics, as well as current controversies in the field and how they might be addressed by research, clinical practice and policy.  There was very little showboating, and a lot of genuine conversation and learning.

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