UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Situating "evidence" and constructing users : communicative authority and the production of knowledge in harm reduction evaluation Robbins, Stephen Delbert


Despite thirty published evaluation reports citing the effectiveness of Vancouver’s safe injection site (Small 2008), the Canadian federal government refuses to endorse safe injection sites as a health service option available to injection drug users (IDUs). Insite’ s evaluation results are undergoing debate, because two communicative spheres of knowledge, each with a unique authoritative language, are conflicting as each is attempting to gain moral authority over the right to recontextualize drug users. Drawing on a literature review of two harm reduction programs in Vancouver, Insite and Sheway, and expert interviews with evaluators, I show that what constitutes “evidence” is in fact subjective, determined by spheres of communicability that are built upon social, professional and political contexts. To confront the problematic nature of this issue, I suggest that evaluators and overseers need to treat program evaluation as a process of negotiation, best approached in a fluid manner. By obscuring multiple user experiences in the evaluation of harm reduction programs, evaluators and overseers risk imposing their communicative ideologies on what it means to be a drug user.

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