Sameness and difference: Metaphor and politics in the constitution of addiction, social exclusion and gender in Australian and Swedish drug policy Academic Article uri icon


  • Like any other discourse, drug policy is imagined and articulated through metaphors. In this article, we explore the metaphors and meanings at work in the current national drug policies of Australia and Sweden. Australia's approach to welfare is usually characterised as liberal-welfarist, emphasising individual difference and 'freedom'. Sweden's approach is usually characterised as social-democratic, universalistic and paternalistic, with an emphasis on social rights, equity and sameness. How do these models of citizenship--difference versus sameness--play out in national drug policies? What are the risks and benefits of these models and the claims they allow? In the textual analysis presented here, we focus on metaphors and meanings relating to the themes of addiction, social exclusion and gender. We choose metaphor as our major analytical tool because we think that the risks and benefits of adopting different models of citizenship in drug policy need to be understood to operate at many levels and with a high degree of subtlety and abstraction. In the cases of addiction and social exclusion, a complicated picture emerges. In Australia, drug users are offered two options: sameness (and reintegration into society) or difference (and re-connection). In Sweden, drug users are excluded from society but not because they are fundamentally different from non-users. Because drug users are understood to be suffering from a temporary and curable personal affliction, the goal is to return them to sameness through care and treatment. With respect to gender, although differently expressed in the two national contexts and differently shaped by national imaginaries, both national policies adopt similar approaches: the unequal treatment of women transcends differences in national setting. Accounts of drug policy usually focus on the degree to which drug policy is, or should be, 'evidence-based', or on the complex political negotiations involving diverse stakeholders and interests. We suggest here another, complementary, perspective: that national imaginaries (i.e. culturally specific metaphors, symbols and beliefs, and national ideologies) shape drug policy in subtle but crucial ways.

publication date

  • 2015