EDITOR’S NOTE: Rebecca Tiger, an assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College, reflects on her recent book Judging Addicts: Drug Courts and Coercion in the Justice System (NYU Press, 2012), and hints at her next project.
It’s about the idea that addiction is both a badness and a sickness, and then what we do to people—namely, punish them— once we decide that addiction is this kind of hybrid disorder.
What do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about your book?
History in my book is not a background; it’s an important analytic tool. I started this project with the idea that coerced drug treatment was on the rise, that it was this new phenomena, that it was historically unique, and that it deserved study because of that. And as I started to read the history I realized that this construction of addiction as a badness and a sickness and the state intervening to compel people to get sober is not new. The historical part is crucial to understanding present criminal justice practice. Criminal justice practice is informed by over 150 years of thinking about addiction that has crystallized into a condition that seems perfectly fine to call a disease– yet a judge should be overseeing treatment. The book might be of interest to historians because I’m looking at the institutional context in which these historical ideas are playing out now. I use history as a way to understand now; it was through history that I realized that what drug court people are saying is unique is actually not unique at all.