American Addict: The Historical Emergence and Wanderings of a Human Kind, 1860-1960.

Rosenstein, Paul, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hunter, James, Sociology, University of Virginia

Between 1860 and 1960 in the United States, the seat of addiction appeared to “wander” from the bottle (i.e., Demon Rum) to the body, from the body to the mind, and then from the mind back to the body. Meanwhile, epistemic authority over the deviant behavior and person passed from ecclesiastical and cultural elites to biomedical experts, from biomedical experts to psychiatrists, from psychiatrists to lay addicts, from lay addicts to a new generation of biomedical experts, and so on. Strict realists insist that such representational and jurisdictional shifts reflected the discovery of new evidence, the progressive accumulation of knowledge regarding addiction, and increasing correspondence between scientific classifications and the timeless and concept-independent truths of certain behaviors and human persons. By contrast, radical constructionists argue that while “addiction” and the “addict” may or may not refer to objective and durable facets of the real world, the categories tend to serve various social functions under particular sociohistorical conditions. Despite divergent conclusions, both realists and constructionists assume that expert classifications are strictly outcome variables. By drawing on Ian Hacking’s (1986, 1995, 1999, 2002) “dynamic nominalism,” the following work seeks to demonstrate how human scientific classification in fact represented an important explanatory variable in the historical constitution of the addict as a “human kind” of person. By reading Hacking’s (1995) “looping effects” between expert categorization and the people who were so categorized through the historical sociologist’s “reactive sequence” (Mahoney 2000; Goldstone 1998), this work offers a path-dependent analysis of the “wandering” addict that (1) helps to transcend the long-standing realist/constructionist divide in the sociology of addiction and (2) highlights the complex and unstable relationship between human scientific classification and meaningful selfhood in modern America.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
addiction, Ian Hacking, sociology, critical realism
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