A Sociological Study of Addiction: Power and Social Change from the "rock bottom up"
Doyle, Patricia (2009) A Sociological Study of Addiction: Power and Social Change from the "rock bottom up". PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
In this study the subject of addiction/recovery is used to ‘test’ the conceptual ideas of Margaret Archer (1996) and Thomas Smith (1995). Both are systems theorists’ and both engage in cause and effect analysis. As they hold contrasting views on how personal and cultural change takes place this study is an attempt to establish the direction of causal influence on social change as it applies to the history of addiction/recovery from each author’s perspective. By firstly examining the history of ideas (cultural system) from a critical realist perspective followed by an exploration of how the recovering community came to believe these ideas in the first place we are given a glimpse of the external (Archer,1996) and internal (Smith, 1995) constraints that the recovering community has confronted over time. Archer is keen to address the varying degrees of freedom and constraint agency confronts at both the cultural system and socio-cultural systems level over time. From her perspective these external constraints (causal factors) have a direct input into “the nature of, and conditions for, autonomy (and its relation to social determination)” (Lukes quoted in Archer, 1996:93) and have a conditioning effect on “the degrees of freedom within which power can be exercised” (Archer, 1996: 93-94). However in this study by applying Smith’s reformulation of Parsons’ work (non equilibrium functionalism) to the study of addiction/recovery we are also alerted to the varying degrees of freedom and constraint that are experienced at the level of the human being over time which also has implications for agentic possibility over time. Beginning at the level of physiology and not the social system and by exploring what addiction/recovery and the cultural system means and has meant to the recovering community we can identify the internal constraints (causal factors) that also have a direct input into the nature of, and conditions for, the autonomy of the recovering community over time. These factors also have a causal effect on the degrees of freedom within which power can be exercised. The study of addiction/recovery alerts us to the utility of incorporating Smith’s clinical concept of self object transference (1995: 30) in our analysis. By acknowledging the strong forces that are clearly at work in interaction (ibid: vii) we can identify a form of power that has been neglected in addiction studies and ruled out of explanation in social theory. This personal, sometimes hidden, not always conscious, embodied and emotional dimension to emergent power impacts equally on the addicted and non-addicted population alike. A theory of addiction becomes a theory of social change when we recognize that these internal forces (causal factors) guide our behaviour as surely as any of the generative mechanisms (causal factors) identified by Archer. Moreover by focusing on the meaning that the cultural system holds for recovering people which may be extended to include the population more generally we can see that in terms of the direction of causal influence on personal and social change it is the subjective meanings that the cultural system holds for people that is what sometimes gives it its causal effect.
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