UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rounding 'em up on the East Side of the Wild West : four pillars, or one big corral? Graham, Erin


In response to a health crisis in Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside in the late 1990's, a "Four Pillars" approach to the drug problems of the Downtown Eastside was initiated. This thesis engages in apolitical critique of Vancouver's Four Pillars drug policy. My key questions are concerned with the foundational ideologies driving the development and implementation of Vancouver's drug policy. This thesis also analyzes the tactics of influence which are utilized by members of the media in regard to the Four Pillars drug strategies. My primary aim is to show ways in which Vancouver's Four Pillars drug policies function mainly to maintain specific groups of people within the pathologized urban space of the Downtown Eastside. This thesis considers an analysis of drug use as a form of resistance, or disengagement from mainstream society. People use drugs, in some contexts, as a way to rebel against intolerable conditions. One of the four goals of the Four Pillars is to establish and maintain public order, and in this thesis, I argue that order is achieved at least in part at the expense of both equity and agency for those who are targets of the Four Pillars Drug Policies. An examination of policy documents and media pertaining to these strategies is undertaken within a theoretical framework provided by the work of Hannah Arendt, Pierre Bourdieu and Nikolas Rose. I use, in particular, aspects of Hannah Arendt's analysis of the conditions of statelessness to provide a way to think about the problems which manifest in the DTES. This analysis is also informed by Pierre Bourdieu's definitions of habitus and authorized language and the ways in which habitus is reproduced or altered through language and other practices. In addition, I use Nikolas Rose's elaboration of Foucault's concept of ‘governmentality’ to demonstrate ways in which social service practices operate to gain the cooperation of people (who depend on social services) in their own governance. I engage a form of critical discourse analysis to develop an argument that the Four Pillars approach to the Downtown Eastside does not address the social inequities leading to problematic drug use and consequent criminal activity. The goals of the Four Pillars policy, I argue, are concerned with developing a new form of state governance with an aim to establishing (state-defined) public order and hygiene. There appears to be some amelioration of both disorder and the spread of disease through some of the tactics of these policies. However, it appears that the underlying ideology driving the development and implementation of the Four Pillars approach ultimately maintains deep and growing social inequalities. This thesis develops a critique of policy development and subsequent media coverage of their implementation. In so doing, this work provides an opening to consider alternative ways to think about the use of illicit drugs within urban concentrations of poverty. Through these alternative considerations, possibilities for collaborative and transformative actions by and on behalf of all of the citizens of Vancouver (including the people who use drugs in the DTES) can be explored.

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