Interpellating recovery: The politics of ‘identity’ in recovery-focused treatment Academic Article uri icon


  • Much research tends to treat alcohol and other drug 'recovery' as a process of positive identity change and development. In this article, we depart from this dominant approach by examining how the social and material practices of alcohol and other drug treatment are themselves active in the constitution of 'recovery identity'. Using Judith Butler's theorisation of interpellation, we examine the accounts of treatment experiences and practices provided in interviews with people who inject drugs. In contrast to the existing literature, we argue that the 'recovering addict' is a socially produced category rather than a coherent psychological identity. We consider the production of this category in relation to three dynamics identified in the data: (1) the tendency to materialise treatment subjects as both disordered and as 'in control' of these disorders; (2) the production of treatment subjects as enmeshed in suspect social relationships and therefore requiring surveillance as well as social support; and (3) treatment's particular enactment of social context such that it erases stigmatisation and marginalisation and paradoxically performs subjects as entirely individually responsible for relinquishing drug use. These dynamics produce capacities and attributes often ascribed to identity but which are better understood as articulations of epistemological disorder in the state of knowledge about addiction, and its expression in treatment. By way of conclusion, we question the utility of 'recovery identity', conventionally defined, in providing a rationale for treatment.

publication date

  • 2017