Gender and Critical Drug Studies: Feminist Autoethnography, Gender and Drug Use

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes Elizabeth Ettore, Professor of Sociology in the School of Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool. In it, she explores more about her article on the utility of autoethnography in drug research, which appeared in a special co-produced edition of SHAD and CDP, Special Issue: Gender and Critical Drug Studies. Enjoy!

Screenshot 2018-09-05 at 8.17.33 PMIn my paper “Feminist autoethnography, gender and drug use: ‘Feeling about’ empathy while ‘storying the I,'” I explore autoethnography as a feminist method in the drugs field. My writing Women and Substance Use in the late 1980s/early 1990s felt like pathbreaking, feminist sociology. In 1986, when I was asked to write a book on the experiences of women who used drugs, very little had been published on women’s use of substances other than alcohol.  At that time, the term “substance misuse” rather than “substance use” was used to stigmatize users; no one dared talk about “the body” or “pleasure.” I had been working as a research sociologist at the Addiction Research Unit (ARU) in London, and, sadly, I had not succeeded in drawing attention to women in the addiction research world.

Regarded in retrospect as not only one of the first comprehensive portraits of women as substance users, but also as a critical, feminist sociology of a group once regarded as so “deviant” that even those who researched this group were viewed as contemptible, my book emerged out of the ARU when, in fact, the structure and culture of the unit presented obstacles to my voice, sexuality and views. Not until decades later, when I began to explore the theoretical implications of using autoethnography as a feminist method in the drugs field, did I fully process the experience of gendered marginalization and vulnerability that I lived through during that time. By telling my story during my 40 years’ experience as a feminist researcher in the drugs field,  I hope to help those practicing critical drug scholarship become familiar with autoethnography as a viable way of employing gender analyses and furthering feminist research.

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