Doing ontopolitically-oriented research: Synthesising concepts from the ontological turn for alcohol and other drug research and other social sciences Academic Article uri icon


  • The ontological turn has had a significant impact on the social sciences, including the social sciences of alcohol and other drug use. Work questioning the materiality of drugs, and the discourses of compulsion and dependence that co-constitute public understandings of drugs and their effects, is now relatively common in the field. In this article I discuss the new assumptions and methods informing the ontological turn, linking them together to produce an approach that synthesises what has become a fertile but rather piecemeal domain of critical drugs studies. In doing so, I identify and define to what I will term, following these intellectual trajectories, 'ontopolitically-oriented research' for the alcohol and other drug social sciences. This article will discuss two research projects: one that set out to generate new knowledge on lived experiences of addiction, and one that set out to rethink the standard illicit drug use safe injecting fitpack to better serve couples who inject together. The aim of this article will not be to report on project findings however. Instead it will provide a synthesis of research methods inspired by, and interpreted through, the ontological turn, using the projects as examples by considering them from the point of view of their ontological politics. As I will argue, the projects and their outcomes were fundamentally inspired by the insight that research not only explores and describes realities, it actively constitutes the realities it explores, playing a direct role in reconstituting realities through its conduct, outcomes and communications. I adopt the term 'ontopolitically-oriented research' to describe this approach. The analysis in this article will focus on the projects' methods, describing the ways these methods were interpreted and implemented in ways best able to articulate and fulfil project aims. In concluding, the article will propose a set of features of ontopolitically-oriented research, as well as some observations on the steps, obstacles, priorities and pitfalls ontopolitically-oriented research may encounter in pursuing its aims.

publication date

  • 2020