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.
Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?
I study drug courts, which are courts where people are mandated to treatment instead of prison (although they are sometimes put in jail as a sort of treatment tool). Drug courts are not hugely interesting to me except as a way to think about addiction as a philosophical, theoretical, and somewhat slippery concept. So to me, the most interesting parts of the book are where I get to talk about addiction as a historically constructed idea. I do it via drug courts, but I could do it via a lot of other mechanisms. The part that I come back to in my own work now is taking addiction and putting a question mark after it— looking at what addiction means, and what it means that our society is so preoccupied with addiction.
Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?
My last research project was very focused on the institutional sites where addiction gets defined and reaffirmed. I was looking at the criminal justice system, which in the US is one of the important places where addiction gets made through practice. But I came to see that addiction is also constructed in popular and elite media in ways that sometimes pushes back against institutional pronouncements. My book really emphasized the institutional context and did not pay attention to the interactive way addiction gets constructed through media. My new project is looking at that. I came out of the last project with the awareness that I had overemphasized institutional pronouncements and didn’t pay enough attention to places where the idea of addiction gets negotiated interactively by audiences. My work now is looking at those places and connecting them to concept of celebrity. I’m paying attention to where discussions of celebrity addicts take place and to the kinds of negotiations with dominant ideas of addiction that are taking place interactively.
BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?