Social identity, gender, and the moral self: The impact of AIDS on the intravenous drug user.
KeywordsDrug addicts -- Psychology.
AIDS (Disease) -- Psychological aspects.
Substance Abuse, Intravenous -- psychology.
Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome -- psychology.
Committee ChairNichter, Mark
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis ethnography of intravenous (IV) drug users challenges popular representations of a "junkie" subculture and stereotypes of users as rejecting the dominant cultural values of mainstream society. Users attempts to construct and maintain a moral identity are examined. Beyond "war stories" ennobling street life and survival, life narratives were constructed through a juxtaposition of voices and images establishing moral worth in opposition to others. Moral identity is a central concern for IV drug users, one influencing their response to risk. Social relations, responsibility, and an ethic of care were found to underlay the moral codes developed by users, codes socially-embedded and to some degree gender specific. Men tended to adopt a "tough guy," "independence" voice in which responsibility was largely framed around status and image as a role model. Women tended to see responsibility and morality within a web of interdependence and care. Social responsibility was a measure of moral goodness. The desire to be defined by mainstream values was strongly evident among women users who were mothers. Motherhood was a core symbol representing inherent goodness, a marker of moral identity, and a means toward achieving a socially acceptable identity. The identities of "junkie" and "mother" placed women in a state of perpetual tension and conflict as manifested in issues of child custody and welfare. Maintaining relationship with their children was central to the women's moral identity, be it based in daily interaction or visitations inspiring hopes for a future. This ethnography suggests that IV drug users, while chemically dependent, maintain a sense of agency. Contrary to stereotypes of irresponsibility, users are reflexive about their habit's control and their use of drugs to block suffering, social responsibility, and the pain they cause others. Displays of agency and exercises of control proved critical in identity construction, particularly for women users diagnosed HIV positive. Documented was the process whereby they redefined their "health" and moral identity in the company of others who assisted in constructing identities in contrast to the negative stereotypes of AIDS. Through discourse within these "life narrative groups" a positive diagnosis was transposed into a positive identity.