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The anxious enjoyment of poverty: drug addiction, panhandling, and the spaces of psychoanalysis

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
This dissertation draws on fieldwork with drug-using panhandlers and interviews with social service providers to examine drug addiction and panhandling as social issues significant to poor and gentrifying neighbourhoods. I provide ethnographic accounts of both of these phenomena, beginning with drug users’ experiences of Vancouver’s current harm reduction drug policy initiatives, such as the Insite supervised injection site and methadone treatment programmes. In the second half of the dissertation, I provide a similar account of panhandling in the rapidly gentrifying Gastown area of the Downtown Eastside. The dissertation draws on this empirical research to offer a social-theoretical framework for understanding panhandling and drug addiction as social issues with the capacity to provoke visceral, emotional reactions on the part of those who encounter them and those who are charged with regulating them. Characterizing this reaction as one of anxiety, I trace a series of anxieties which permeate discourses on panhandling and drug addiction, from concerns with the pleasures of drug users to anxieties over what poor people do with their money. The dissertation seeks to resolve paradoxes within both of these social phenomena: How can we account for the anger, discomfort, and disgust that are provoked in people by issues that affect them so little? How can we explain people’s implacability to drug policy that is so empirically sound? And how can we understand people’s anxieties with panhandling encounters when the amounts of money concerned are so insignificant? Drawing a distinction between the manifest and latent content of these anxieties, I use psychoanalysis to argue that they cannot be understood without recourse to the unconscious. I argue that the discourses and public policy that concern drug use and panhandling are subtended by unconscious anxieties about the jouissance and the lack in the Other. Only when we consider the unconscious dimensions of these social phenomena can we understand the visceral, emotional reactions that panhandling and drug addiction regularly provoke.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Kingsbury, Paul
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