Review of Trysh Travis, the Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

By Clark, Claire | Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, June 2010 | Go to article overview

Review of Trysh Travis, the Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey


Clark, Claire, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality


Review of Trysh Travis, The Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010) xvi + 376 pp.

Academics are professional skeptics. Among other things, we have learned to be wary of the book introduction, burned too many times from single-digit page numbers that over-promise and under-deliver. Trysh Travis's recent monograph, The Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey, is the rare book that more than lives up to its promises: the rich contents of this book far surpass the vague claim on the dust jacket, which tells us that Travis will argue that "what unites these varied cultures of recovery is their desire to offer spiritual solutions to problems of gender and power." Travis certainly takes gender seriously, but her cultural history is both more sweeping and more nuanced than a formulaic feminist Foucauldian analysis might allow. In Travis's introduction, she makes clear that the primary aim of her book is not to deconstruct facets of the recovery movement, but to lay the groundwork for establishing an "adequate sense" of what the term means (p. 3). Her second stated purpose is to "establish recovery--its history, its organizing principles, and its culture--as a legitimate subject for sustained scholarly analysis" (p. 8). She capably accomplishes both goals.

The first section of the book, "Addiction and Recovery," establishes a working definition of recovery culture(s) by making the crucial distinction between Alcoholics Anonymous and the professional treatment industry. Without ignoring the ways in which the theories put forth by associations were in concert (both in seeking public recognition and in developing a "distinctive rhetoric"), Travis begins with the implication that future studies of recovery would do well to make a primary distinction between voluntary associations like AA and the recovery industry based on 12-step principles or models. In this section, the "distinctive rhetoric" that would later become the "language of the heart" of the book's title, begins with a discussion of the "disease" concept of alcoholism. Rather than attempting to debunk this concept, Travis historicizes it, tracing its development as well as its uses, as it was alternately put forth by various actors throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. This genealogy of the disease concept of addiction is traced through: the language of Alcoholics Anonymous and its founders; the theories of the Yale School of Alcohol Studies and Marty Mann's National Committee for Education on Alcoholism; the policies of the federal government, beginning in 1963 with the Community Mental Health Centers Act; and the agendas of "process" addiction advocates, who expanded the "disease" concept to many aspects of modern life, including sex and food. After historicizing how "addictions" of various sorts came to be understood as a "disease" on par with type one diabetes, Travis turns her attention to the "antidote" as offered by Alcoholics Anonymous: "surrender."

The second chapter illustrates how AA's concept of "surrender"--and AA itself--can be traced to AA's theological roots in both New Thought mysticism and Protestant (Oxford Group) evangelism. It also traces its roots biographically, in the life stories of its founders, Bill Wilson, Bob Smith and the largely white, Protestant, middle-class men who formed the earliest AA groups. While much of the content of this section will be familiar to historians of addiction, Travis's careful delineation between the various historical actors who contributed to the "diseasing" of America, and her introduction of a new conceptual framework from which to view the early AA paradigm of "surrender," are worthy contributions to the available scholarship.

At the end of the first section, Travis coins the phrase "alcoholic equalitarianism," situating it as a response to Victorian success ideology and an offshoot of Christian equalitarianism, a movement that held that salvation was available to "all who would seek it, irrespective of rank or station" (p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Review of Trysh Travis, the Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.