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An exploratory study of the social representations of heroin and heroin users

Corcoran, P. (2008). An exploratory study of the social representations of heroin and heroin users. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


The aim of this PhD was to explore the social representations of heroin and heroin users. There are an estimated 300,000 heroin addicts in the UK today (NTA, 2008) and despite the normalisation of other illicit drugs (Parker, Aldridge & Measham, 1998) this group remains marginalised and stigmatised in comparison to other recreational drug users. Social representations (Moscovici, 1984) are formed through social interaction and these shared representations allow individuals to make sense of their social reality, providing a basis of references with which to guide their relations to the world. Therefore a social representations approach was used in order to gain a greater understanding of how this group is perceived within society today.

Three studies were conducted in this research using focus groups, a media analysis and semi-structured interviews. These studies provided the corpus of data which was analysed using a content and thematic analysis (Joffe & Yardley, 2004). Two core social representations emerged from the data set and these were the social representations of heroin as addictive and heroin as bad. I found that participants distanced themselves from heroin users and distinguished between their own recreational drug use and the behaviours of heroin users. The role of control and responsibility were important dimensions in this process and a lack of control was feared by most participants. The social representations showed that this drug remains distinct from other recreational drugs and the heroin user was perceived as an addict, a criminal and a patient at the same time. Implications for anti-drug campaigns and treatment approaches were considered.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
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