Meeting: #6 September 2019

Article: Andersen, D. (2015). Stories of change in drug treatment: a narrative analysis of ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ in institutional storytelling. Sociology of Health & Illness, 37(5), 668-682.

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Team: Center for Alcohol and Drug Research, Aarhus University (@CRF_Aarhus) Maria Dich Herold (lead), Mie Birk Jensen, Thomas Friis Søgaard, Jeanett Bjønness, Cecilia Rand, Frank Søgaard Nielsen. 

Meeting summary:

In her article, Stories of change in drug treatment: a narrative analysis of ‘whats’ and ‘hows’ in institutional storytelling(2015), Andersen delivers a carefully conducted micro-level analysis of how recovery narratives are constructed and performed across two Danish drug treatment facilities for young people. While the importance of narratives for recovery has long been acknowledge by both practitioners and researchers, less attention has been given to the actual processes of how ‘stories of change’ develop in situ, including how institutional environments frame and co-create young people’s notions of and orientation towards ‘change’. Building on qualitative interviews as well as extensive ethnographic data from 5 month’s field work, Andersen succeeds in showing “how context shapes narratives moment-to-moment” (p.668). Impressively, through narrative micro-level analysis, which at times has an almost linguistic character, she manages to couple the individual level of storytelling with institutional practices and logics around change and recovery for young people in drug treatment. In doing so, Andersen shows, not only how positions related to being in recovery are created for and taken up by these young people, but also how especially notions of change, but also logics around e.g. gender/femininity and drug use/pleasure, can work to exclude them from positions related to recovery, and, in some cases, even from treatment participation.

Andersen’s article is engaging throughout. This can be attributed, not only to her great sense of the data she is working with and the high quality of her analytical work, but also to her style of writing. She carefully leads her reader through each phase of her work, and communicates her methodological and analytical choices convincingly. Furthermore, this article exemplifies how a good, qualitative analysis can be centered on detailed empirical data (here: interview extracts and field notes), yet without compromising the theoretical/conceptual level of analysis. The balance between the presented data, theoretical and analytical concepts stand out as impressively organic, and thus Andersen succeeds in providing an analysis, which is empirically nuanced and convincing, as well as being theoretically well-informed and clearly communicated.

Finally, while qualitative researchers often have the ambition of fore fronting the importance of context, and thus add to the understanding that human behavior should not merely be conceived of as a consequence of individual choices, this month’s article elegantly demonstrates one take on how this ambition can actually be carried out. In doing so, Andersen at the same time demonstrates the value of well-conducted ethnographic fieldwork for the field of AOD research.

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