Psychoactive Substances and the English Language: "Drugs," Discourses, and Public Policy

By Tupper, Kenneth W. | Contemporary Drug Problems, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Psychoactive Substances and the English Language: "Drugs," Discourses, and Public Policy


Tupper, Kenneth W., Contemporary Drug Problems


The word "drug" would not seem to present a definitional challenge to speakers of the English language. Its meaning is seen as a matter of common sense, and it is used freely in contemporary public, professional, and political discourses. However, the lexeme "drug" warrants closer scrutiny, especially inasmuch as its different senses and dominant metaphorical frames shape public policy governing psychoactive substances and the people who use them. In this article, I explore the political and philosophical complexities of the word "drug." Specifically, I argue that it functions within a modern folk stereotypology of psychoactive substances that reflects the ideological underpinnings (i.e., basic convictions, philosophical assumptions, and axiomatic beliefs) of what may be termed a "drug war paradigm." In analyzing how the word "drug" operates within this paradigm, I explicitly invoke Kuhn's (1962) postulation of a shared epistemic model in a domain of knowledge, which guides thinking in such domains as academic research, health, law enforcement, and education, and more broadly, public policies (Fischer, 2003).

The label "drug war paradigm" refers to the broad set of ideological beliefs that underlie the international drug control regime and justify the intimidation, surveillance, arrest, incarceration, denial of human rights, and other extreme measures of social control directed at people who produce, trade, and use certain kinds of psychoactive substances, deemed morally and criminally objectionable in the legal statutes and justice systems of countries adhering to the United Nations' international drug control conventions. This article aims to show that such a paradigm is evident in how the word "drug" operates in contemporary English language discourses, and that the crafting of alternative drug policies, in order to better align with human rights and public health principles, may require the public and policy makers to question dominant contemporary "drug" discourses.

Illuminating how the concept of "drug" operates within the drug war paradigm involves engaging in what Ian Hacking (2002) describes as historical ontology. Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that analyzes the existence and categorization of reality, querying what exists and how it should be classified. Historical ontology, a term Hacking borrows from Foucault (1984), is an exercise in tracing how kinds of things - particularly those relating to human beliefs or practices - are constituted, both historically and currently, through the enduring dynamic of social or discursive constructions. Social constructions are categories that have been established through the linguistic and conceptual conventions of a particular culture or society (Hacking, 1999). The perspective of scholars such as Foucault and Hacking challenges us to look beyond the taken-for-granted categories in our linguistic representations of the world, and to query whether and how things might be otherwise (Burr, 2003). Identifying social constructions, as Hacking (1999, p. 58) puts it, "challenges complacent assumptions about the inevitability of what we have found out or our present ways of doing things." My aim in this article is to use Hacking's philosophical approach of historical ontology to demonstrate the contingent nature of contemporary thinking and talking about "drugs," and to suggest that language is an important factor to consider in efforts to shift both public opinion and government policy.

My method of inquiry is critical discourse analysis (CDA), a formalized way of identifying and critiquing the complex relationships between language and dominant social, political, and ideological structures. "Discourse" in CDA refers to language use as social practice, or how language functions to establish identities, social relationships, and systems of knowledge and belief (Rogers, Malancharuvil-B erkes, Mosley, Hui, & O 'Garro- Joseph, 2005). As Fairclough (1992, p. 64) argues, discourse is a means of "not just representing the world, but of signifying the world, constituting and constructing the world in meaning. …

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
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 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 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.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Psychoactive Substances and the English Language: "Drugs," Discourses, and Public Policy
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
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
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.”

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 8, MLA 7, 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." (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.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    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.