Crack Cocaine Users
High Society and Low Life in South London
Routledge – 2011 – 214 pages
Crack cocaine users have significant health problems, and place a significant burden on social services, the criminal justice system and drug treatment agencies. Among policymakers, professionals and the wider section of society, they are the most poorly understood drug-using group and have the worst retention rate in prison drug programmes and community drug agencies.
This book is about their addictions and the realities of their lives. Based on ethnographic research (observation and interviewing) conducted in south London, it aims to highlight their day-to-day struggles as they attempt to survive in a violent and intimidating street drug scene while trying to make changes to their lives. The book unpacks the myths and stigma of their drug use, highlighting their fragile position in society in an effort to better understand them. With the help of several key characters, the book uses their words and experiences to take the reader on a journey through their crack addiction from a life in and out of crack houses, their experiences with law enforcement and welfare agencies to their life aspirations.
The findings have important policy implications, and are relevant and accessible to academics and students in the field of criminology, sociology, psychology, and research methods. The research is equally relevant for central and local government policymakers, and frontline healthcare and drug agency staff.
'This book will have undoubted appeal to any individual employed within frontline services that have drug / alcohol remits. It will be of particular value to those who are not personally familiar with ‘crack scenes’ but may encounter crack users within their line of work. It will also be a useful text for any harm reduction agency throughout the UK due to the first-hand accounts of drug using practices described by Briggs. From a more academic perspective, the text has a definite multi-disciplinary appeal, and students of qualitative research (at any stage of their studies) will benefit from the ethnographic accounts.'
'Briggs’ observations and accounts of the drug using environments in which he became immersed is a masterful presentation of contemporary ethnography.'
-Stephen Parkin, University of Huddersfield in Sociology of Health & Illness, 2012, p.807-808
'Dan Briggs’s Crack Cocaine Users draws upon data taken from a year-long ethnographic study investigating the crack scene in one south-London borough, and, in analysing the often painful realities of everyday life for this marginalized group, makes an important contribution to the rejuvenation of serious, forward-looking empirical criminology.'
'[Briggs'] analysis of the practical, esoteric and subjective impediments that often prevent or discourage access to recovery and desistance should be particularly useful to practitioners and policy specialists. He offers a careful but important critique of current government policy aimed at reducing the harms of the street level crack trade both for users and the surrounding community.'
'Crack Cocaine Users is, then, an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the lives of the marginalized in contemporary Western liberal democracies. The central tale Briggs has to tell is compelling, and this book should find its way onto the desks of critical, cultural and policy-orientated criminologists, and the reading lists of undergraduate students across the social sciences.'
-Simon Winlow, University of York in the British Journal of Criminology, June 2012
'…Daniel Briggs has provided detailed insight into another population commonly misunderstood, unreasonably homogenised as a group and a substance unreasonably attributed with powers to addict and with the ability to retain that addiction that is located almost solely within the substance itself – crack cocaine.'
'There is a great deal of detail in Briggs’ book both author led and given through the voices of those researched but there is also an admirable attempt to locate these lives within contemporary social theory, an attempt that to a large degree is successful. Overall this is a book that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone that is either already engaged with crack using populations, who is likely to become so or just anyone interested in good ethnographic research and what it is capable of or issues of addiction and crack cocaine use.'
-Ross Coomber, Plymouth University, in Addiction (forthcoming in 2013)
'This ethnographic study will both shock and sober the reader. In a gripping text with an anecdotal style, Briggs gives a detailed insight into the lifestyles of crack cocaine users, a description of the evolution of crack cocaine careers and the socio-structure of drug-using practices.'
'From the practitioner’s perspective Briggs research is valuable because it is an analytical account of crack cocaine use that develops the reader’s understanding of the drug users’ self-perceptions of shame and guilt.'
-Kathryn Thompson, Probation Officer, Greater Manchester Trust, in Probation Journal vol 59 no 4
'A sociologist by trade and an ethnographer by training, Briggs approaches this project with an expert analysis of the macro system joined by a compelling curiosity about lived realities within the micro-level.'
'Research within the social sciences—inclusive of social work’s contributions, importantly—is bestowing a special credence to the stories and forms of knowledge that emanate from ethnographically-oriented qualitative projects. In his latest ethnography, Crack Cocaine Users, Briggs’ writing abilities and sophistication of analyses assist the realization of a rare achievement: this dense text makes innumerable contributions to the literature, while also maintaining a reader-friendly and captivating style of story telling. Advocating for significant changes in international drug policy, criminal justice systems, public welfare agencies, the procedures and programs of community-based organizations, and approaches to addictions treatment, this book reinforces the immense value of ethnographic inquiry within contemporary knowledge-building in the social sciences.'
-Jeff T. Steen, New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, in The New Social Worker, Winter 2013, vol 20 no 1
'This fascinating book is one in a series documenting ethnographic research examining the consequences of crack cocaine use in a south London borough called ‘Rivertown’, by author Daniel Briggs. In my view, it should be read by policy makers, service providers and promoted widely for consumption by the general public to inform them of how their taxes are spent attempting to prevent drug use, and to contain the casualties of chaotic crack and heroin use.'
-Iain McPhee, University of the West of Scotland, in Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, posted online 18 Jan '13
1. Introduction 2. How Did it Get to This? 3. Rivertown: The Research Context 4. Becoming a Crack Cocaine User 5. The Social Organisation of the Crack Scene 6. Crack Use and Social Control 7. The Management of Self and Others 8. Ways Out or Ways Down? 9. Discussion and Conclusion 10. Epilogue: The Field Lives On
Daniel Briggs is Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of East London. He works with a range of social groups – from the most vulnerable to the most dangerous to the most misunderstood. His work takes him inside prisons, crack houses, mental health institutions, asylum seeker institutions, hostels, care homes and hospices, and homeless services. His research interests include social exclusion, culture and deviance, and late modern identities. He has recently undertaken work in Spain on gypsies and youth risk behaviours while on holiday and is currently undertaking research on youth gangs.