Nancy Campbell

Biopolitical «experts by experience». Overcoming harm and averting death in a global social movement.

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Social movements, Harm reduction, Embodied expertise, Experts by experience, Overdose prevention.

An embodied form of «expertise by experience» has emerged within the international harm reduction social movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Harm reduction comprises a socially situated form of biopolitical expertise in the United States and the United Kingdom. Participants in harm reduction social movements seek to reduce drug-related harms through pragmatic, concrete interventions to reduce blood-borne disease transmission and deaths from overdose. This article discusses how participants enact their embodied expertise to produce and pressure what counts as legitimate «expert» knowledge and evidence, and who counts as an «expert», while simultaneously asserting an authoritative expertise designed to travel throughout the evidence-based political and social worlds dominated by biomedical expertise. This paper argues that experts by experience exercise uniquely hybrid forms of embodied expertise in reflexive relation to biopolitical terrain increasingly recognized at international scale. Although the effects of experiential expertise are typically localized and micro-relational, such expertise is valued in some of the more established drug treatment infrastructures in the global north. Such individuals comprise a class of «biopolitical experts» who retain ties with communities of active drug users, working directly to implement harm reduction programs in the global north from which they typically hail. Their expertise is usefully thought of as stemming from concrete forms of embodiment and identity, rather than from more conventional forms of disembodied biopolitical expertise based in conventionally abstract, population-level information produced for governance purposes.

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