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Tracing contexts in events of young people’s party drug use

posted on 27.02.2017, 00:12 by Dilkes-Frayne, Ella
Consumption contexts have been shown to play a significant role in how young people use illicit party drugs such as MDMA, methamphetamines, cocaine, and psychedelics. Current research approaches tend to deploy macro-structural, social or cultural explanations for the role of context in drug use, which have difficulty accounting for the specific and diverse drug use practices evident in particular times and spaces. To address this, in this research I developed a novel research approach to trace how drug use unfolds during particular events or occasions at music festivals and licensed venues in Melbourne, Australia. Drawing conceptual and methodological sensitivities from Actor-Network Theory (ANT) within an ethnographic methodology, I explored how social, spatial, material and temporal aspects of consumption contexts mediated young people’s drug use events. Data were generated through in-depth interviews with young people aged 18-23 years; participant-written diaries and diary-interviews; and participant observation at music festivals and licensed venues. I used these data to generate an innovative way of empirically examining the role of contexts based on the notion of events and event analysis. In this thesis, I discuss the challenges and opportunities presented by doing ANT-inspired social research, and present my empirical findings in four publications reproduced in Chapters 4–7. In the first of these publications, I argue that examining drug use events provides a way forward for tracing the role of contexts in young people’s party drug use practices, presenting a case study of MDMA use by a young man. In the second publication, I demonstrate how the socio-spatial relations of campsites at multiple-day music festivals are involved in generating drug knowledge, norms, access, exchange, harm and harm reduction practices at festivals. Thirdly, in a book chapter co-authored with Jakob Demant, I investigate how police interventions using drug-detection (sniffer) dogs at music festival entrances impact young people’s drug use at festivals. In the final publication, co-author Cameron Duff and I explore how posthumanist approaches to social research, such as ANT, can contribute to alternative articulations of human subjectivity. We propose that framing subjectivity in terms of ‘tendencies’ and ‘trajectories’ should facilitate empirical and conceptual investigation of the role of the human subject in drug use events. Throughout the thesis I contend that it is necessary to explore the ways in which spaces are made to have particular effects by a collection of varied actors and forces. By way of conclusion, the final chapter considers the implications of my empirical and theoretical findings for the design of innovative research programs and practical interventions to prevent event-related harms arising from young people’s party drug use.


Principal supervisor

Lenore Manderson

Additional supervisor 1

Cameron Duff

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Psychological sciences

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences