Health in the Tenderloin: A resident-guide study of substance use, treatment, and housing
Jamie Suki Chang (2017) Social Science & Medicine, 176(3), 166-174
This month’s article by Jamie Chang carefully articulates the complexities related to space and place, detailing how experiences of environment impact drug use and experiences of treatment amongst women. Chang’s research is rooted in the Tenderloin neighbourhood of San Francisco – an area widely described in popular discourse and the media in ways that stigmatize residents. Rather than using similar descriptions to contextualize the neighbourhood, Chang draws on a strengths-based framing of the Tenderloin that not only highlights historical elements of the area, but also pushes back against discourses that perpetuate territorial stigma. In doing so, Chang is able to better discern the intimate ways in which participants’ experiences are intrinsically linked with broader environmental factors, with historical social action rooted in the neighbourhood, and with neighbourhood population shifts.
Central to this paper, is the utilization of the docent method – a method developed by the author that centralizes the participant as an expert. While rooted in principles of community-based research and walking interviews, the docent method a multi-part, participant-led technique in which the researcher is guided through sites of interest. Key to its effectiveness is the way in which the method allows participants to guide the author to spaces they deem important in their lives. As such, the method is designed in a way that provides participants agency to self-describe the neighbourhood, which not only enriches our understanding of their narratives, but also pushes back against territorial stigma.
However, the author’s thoughtfulness in relation to participant narratives extended throughout the paper as she structured the article in ways that illustrated the complexities of place and space for participants. As the author moved through the findings, she also wove in macro-level policy implications to contextualize participants’ individualized experiences, which we viewed as an asset to the paper. Despite maintaining a more positive framework throughout the article, the author did not minimize the social and structural violence experienced by participants, but instead noted the challenges as a complexity to participants’ simultaneously connection to the neighbourhood. This is suggestive of the power of the docent method – in that by providing participants with more control around the production of data, the research can more accurately highlight complexities of space and place, while simultaneously demonstrating areas for improvement.
For our group, this paper challenges us to consider the ways in which we have historically contextualized our research context, and encouraged us to find a balance between catalyzing action through space-based description while being thoughtful to not reinforce territorial stigma. It also reminds us that participants perceive geography and space in various ways, and thus encourages us to continue seeking out innovative methods that allow participants to self-describe space and place.
The Vancouver reading group: Alex Collins, Samara Mayer, Taylor Fleming, Michelle Olding, Cara Ng, Loulou Chayama, Jennifer Lavalley, Scott Neufeld, Ryan McNeil
Chang, Jamie Suki, 2016. The docent method: a grounded theory approach for researching place and health. Qual. Health Res. 1, 11.
Wacquant, L., 2007. Territorial stigmatization in the age of advanced marginality. Thesis Eleven 91 (1), 66–77.
The opinions expressed in this commentary reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the opinions or official positions of the Society for the Study of Addiction.