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Drug policy constellations: A Habermasian approach for understanding English drug policy

Drug policy constellations: A Habermasian approach for understanding English drug policy

Stevens, Alex and Zampini, Giulia Federica ORCID: 0000-0002-9456-4792 (2018) Drug policy constellations: A Habermasian approach for understanding English drug policy. International Journal of Drug Policy, 57. pp. 61-71. ISSN 0955-3959 (doi:

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It is increasingly accepted that a view of policy as a rational process of fitting evidence-based means to rationally justified ends is inadequate for understanding the actual processes of drug policy making. We aim to provide a better description and explanation of recent English drug policy decisions.

We develop the policy constellation concept from the work of Habermas, in dialogue with data from two contemporary debates in English policy; on decriminalisation of drug possession and on recovery in drug treatment. We collect data on these debates through long-term participant observation, stakeholder interviews (n=15) and documentary analysis.

We show the importance of social asymmetries in power in enabling structurally advantaged groups to achieve the institutionalisation of their moral preferences as well as the reproduction of their social and economic power through the deployment of policies that reflect their material interests and normative beliefs. The most influential actors in English drug policy come together in a ‘medico-penal constellation’, in which the aims and practices of public health and social control overlap. Formal decriminalisation of possession has not occurred, despite the efforts of members of a challenging constellation which supports it. Recovery was put forward as the aim of drug treatment by members of a more powerfully connected constellation. It has been absorbed into the practice of ‘recovery-oriented’ drug treatment in a way that maintains the power of public health professionals to determine the form of treatment.

Actors who share interests and norms come together in policy constellations. Strategic action within and between constellations creates policies that may not take the form that was intended by any individual actor. These policies do not result from purely rational deliberation, but are produced through ‘systematically distorted communication’. They enable the most structurally favoured actors to institutionalise their own normative preferences and structural positions.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Policy constellations; English drug policy; Decriminalisation; Recovery; Critical theory
Subjects: K Law > KD England and Wales
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Law & Criminology (LAC)
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2020 13:43

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