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Scripting Addiction:
The Politics of Therapeutic Talk and American Sobriety
E. Summerson Carr

Winner of the 2012 Edward Sapir Book Prize, Society for Linguistic Anthropology

Paperback | 2010 | $37.50 | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780691144504
336 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 2 halftones. 11 line illus. 2 tables.
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Scripting Addiction takes readers into the highly ritualized world of mainstream American addiction treatment. It is a world where clinical practitioners evaluate how drug users speak about themselves and their problems, and where the ideal of "healthy" talk is explicitly promoted, carefully monitored, and identified as the primary sign of therapeutic progress. The book explores the puzzling question: why do addiction counselors dedicate themselves to reconciling drug users' relationship to language in order to reconfigure their relationship to drugs?

To answer this question, anthropologist Summerson Carr traces the charged interactions between counselors, clients, and case managers at "Fresh Beginnings," an addiction treatment program for homeless women in the midwestern United States. She shows that shelter, food, and even the custody of children hang in the balance of everyday therapeutic exchanges, such as clinical assessments, individual therapy sessions, and self-help meetings. Acutely aware of the high stakes of self-representation, experienced clients analyze and learn to effectively perform prescribed ways of speaking, a mimetic practice they call "flipping the script."

As a clinical ethnography, Scripting Addiction examines how decades of clinical theorizing about addiction, language, self-knowledge, and sobriety is manifested in interactions between counselors and clients. As an ethnography of the contemporary United States, the book demonstrates the complex cultural roots of the powerful clinical ideas that shape therapeutic transactions--and by extension administrative routines and institutional dynamics--at sites such as "Fresh Beginnings."


"[A] fresh and thought-provoking perspective on the interaction between addiction professionals and their clients. [Scripting Addiction] is also a remarkable window onto American personhood in general. It shows in unusually precise terms how this personhood is produced by linguistic interactions that shape the institutions in which they occur."--Lorna Rhodes, Social Service Review

"In simplest terms, this book can be read as an ethnographic description of a mandated outpatient drug-treatment program for homeless women. In another sense, it includes a brief history of changing views toward social work in the US since the 1950s. Although not explicitly organized as such, it is also a thoughtful, critical commentary on the rationale, methods, and efficacy of such treatment."--Choice

"Summerson Carr's focus on linguistic practices is a refreshing approach to studying welfare, addiction, and therapy, exposing the way language gets nudged around to yield things that resemble palatable truths."--Chantal Butchinsky, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"The added value of this ethnography lies in its uncovering of the profound impact of ideological assumptions about language and of ideology in language on everyday institutional practices and, ultimately, the everyday lives of clients by providing a detailed account of institutional practices in mainstream American addiction treatment."--Karen Mogendorff, Social Anthropology

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction: Considering the Politics of Therapeutic Language 1
Chapter One: Identifying Icons and the Policies of Personhood 23
Chapter Two: Taking Them In and Talking It Out 49
Chapter Three: Clinographies of Addiction 85
Chapter Four: Addicted Indexes and Metalinguistic Fixes 121
Chapter Five: Therapeutic Scenes on an Administrative Stage 151
Chapter Six: Flipping the Script 190
Conclusion 224
Notes 239
References 279
Index 317

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