UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

A critical examination of experiential knowledge in illicit substance use research and policy Casey, Lauren; McGregor, Hilary


This paper examines the role of experiential user group knowledge in the development of substance use research, policy, and programming. Specifically drawing on themes contained within the sociology of knowledge and Marxist conflict theory, it is argued that the inclusion of experiential persons and collectivities is necessary to produce socially and culturally grounded knowledge regarding the meaning and consequences of illicit substance use. We argue that knowledge flowing from the everyday existence and experiences of drug users forms the basis of effective policy and programming. Experiential knowledge challenges "expert" groups such as policy makers and academic researchers to be reflexive about their position vis-à-vis those they study and to develop effective alliances with user groups. In addition to informing research, policy and programming, user group organizations play a key role in challenging dominant rhetoric regarding illicit drug use as a social problem and demonstrate that the most marginalized members of society can effectively mobilize in the interest of emancipatory social change. Despite the important benefits associated with the inclusion of experiential persons and user groups in research and various levels of social policy and programming, many structural and cultural barriers to meaningful inclusion of user groups exist; it is important to identify these barriers so that they can be strategically engaged and overcome. Two Canadian examples of user group organizations are discussed in order to illustrate both the positive influence and common challenges associated with including experiential knowledge and user group organizations in policy and program development.

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