This volume enables us to look at the concept of addiction with
ethnographic and historical eyes. We not only come to grasp the
culturally entrenched (and hence often invisible) defining as-
sumptions that permit the concept of addiction to do its work,
but we also learn to see the distinct forms this powerful concept
has taken in different times and places. The three trajectories
that organize the volume—the epistemic, therapeutic, and expe-
riential—work effectively separately and together. More often
than not, the volume indicates how they intertwine. Every case
study reveals motion and change in how the concept of addiction
has been used and defined, how it has been treated, and how it is
experienced. This is all the more remarkable an achievement in
light of the common association of ‘‘addiction’’ with a person who
is in the grip of an inexorable force, held rigidly in place. The
tension captured in these essays between the poles of a condition
involving fixity and the constant change in all social lives is what
allows the book to make one of its most important contributions:
showing how the figure of the addict confounds the liberal sub-
ject, that autonomous and free individual prominent in Euro-
American culture since seventeenth-century liberal democratic
theory and essential to most Western social-science explanation.
The concept of the addict confounds the possibility of being a
particular kind of person, the possibility of being an individual
who is owner of himself and his capacities and independent of his
surrounding social context.
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