Managing Risk Environments: An Ethnographic Study of Club Drug Use and Harm Reduction in the EDM Scene
Cristiano, Nicholas Matthew
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Electronic dance music (EDM) has been linked to illicit drug use, especially the use of ecstasy (MDMA), ketamine, cocaine, and GHB. These drugs are so common within the rave scene that they are often referred to collectively as club drugs or rave drugs. Surprisingly, little research has been done on how the risks associated with club drugs are understood and managed by the people who use them. The risk/governance literature provides a useful starting point for understanding practices of club drug use and risk management. The literature frames people who use drugs as rational subjects who are responsibilized through expert knowledges about risk. In the present study, I look at how this responsibilization becomes complicated by context. The study, which is based on ethnographic fieldwork with people who use club drugs, asks: (1) how do people who use club drugs understand and manage the risks associated with these drugs? and (2) how are their abilities to manage these risks facilitated and/or limited by the social/cultural, legal/political, economic, and physical contexts of club drug use? The findings suggest that, while people who use club drugs are generally knowledgeable about the risks posed by their drug use and the recommended strategies for managing those risks, this knowledge does not always translate into practice due to certain contextual constraints (such as legal and policy frameworks, social norms, and the physical design of spaces). I arrive at the following argument: context complicates the responsibilization of drug-using subjects. On a practical level, I show the need for public health and harm minimization efforts aimed at reducing club drug risk to focus not only on individual behavioural change but also on environmental change.