The End Station Community: The drug world between life strategy and death wish[i]


Geir H Moshuus, senior researcher, dr. polit

NOVA (Norwegian Social Research)

Post Box 3223 Elisenberg, 0208 Oslo, Norway



Drug research increasingly study drug consumption within a cultural framework – see for instance the recent Scandinavian anthology on youth culture and drug consumption (Salasuo and Lalander 2005). These approaches share a concern for the discovery of drugs within particular frameworks of meanings. The drug consumer is viewed as a co-producer of these frameworks. Because of this, these perspectives stand the risk of exaggerating the importance of drugs as a life strategy to the point where we forget the destructive aspects of drug consumption. I use my own ethnographic fieldwork in a few of Oslo’s heavier drug circles as a starting point for a discussion how we may bring both aspects into our focus (Moshuus 2005a, Moshuus 2005b). Heroin is death. That is Heroin’s attraction. The consumption of Heroin offers belonging to those who find themselves at the end station of things in Oslo. This is my argument; drug consumption is a life strategy even when it is expressed as a death wish.


I met Bengt, in one of Oslo’s prisons. Bengt is a strong built man in his mid-thirties. We talked in the office of the prison priest. Bengt had volunteered to fill me in on recent developments in Oslo’s heroin circles. Bengt knows the priest very well, but this was our first interview. We discovered that we had met before, briefly. He had showed up in Olagate, together with a friend in the summer of 1999. For seven years Olagate served as a market and a hang out in the local heroin economy. The two men bought a small quantity of heroin from Sol, the female proprietor. I remembered that we met because Bengt’s friend had immigrant background; he was one of those labeled “foreigner” or, to use the local term, he was an “utlending”. Unfortunately the two men disappeared not to show up again. Sol didn’t volunteer any further information about them. But she had not hesitated about providing them with drugs. She had been most amicable.

Facing Bengt, I soon understood why Sol was so friendly back then. Bengt and his friend had been on a short leave from prison. They wanted a kick before they returned. They sought out Olagate in search of a retailer in the heroin racket. At the priest’s office I learned that Bengt was a “hektomann”, a 100 grams dealer. He has had this position since the mid-1990s. Together with his friend, who followed him to Olagate, Bengt traveled to Pakistan and bought a large quantity of heroin. They sold it at huge profits in Oslo. He became known to the big suppliers and was soon established as an intermediary, “a connection”, between the suppliers and the street retailers. Obviously, Sol knew who they were. That is why she was so friendly. Sol was always in need of new “connections” up the chain. It was in her best interest to provide the two men with heroin. That is why she didn’t tell me more about them. Her exclusive knowledge of people up the chain had kept her business running in Olagate for seven years. Otherwise her customers would pass her by and go where the heroin was cheaper.

I wanted Bengt to reflect on the heroin racket as a world of its own. I asked him if he would ever consider selling to someone like me, if I had approached him out of the blue on the street. Bengt was horrified. He told me he would know, at the glimpse of an eye, if the one in front of him was part of his thing or not. He also told me he worked hard to find the good retailer among the street users. Bengt’s enterprise rested upon his skills in this. Our conversation culminated with his exclamation: “Sometimes I believe I’m as much hooked on selling as on shooting heroin.” But I noticed ticks he gave away, revealing the opposite side to his story. He kept fidgeting in his seat while we talked and he couldn’t stop himself from itching in his groins. These are signs revealing heroin users who feel the need of a new fix coming. He was troubled about his future. His current stay in prison coincided with the incarceration of all his main suppliers. All of whom were facing long prison terms. I learned that he had recently applied for subutex treatment.

The task

Seemingly the intake of drugs is a solitary business. And yet both the distribution and consumption of drugs take place inside social relations involving many participants. It is even possible to conceive of people like Bengt and Sol as members of a drug world. This world is closed to most of us. The incredulity Bengt expressed at the idea that someone like me should be able to approach him to buy drugs brings out how the drug scene actually refers to an entity to which you must have some kind of membership in order to participate. But what is this world? Is it a way of living or if it is a way of dying? How am I best to understand the ways of people like Bengt and Sol? Are their world made up of people busy living or are their world made up of people following culturally prescribed ways of self destruction?

This question is directed at the very foundation of the quest of studying people involved with drugs in a western society such as Norway with ethnographical tools.  The exact content of these ethnographical tools vary from one researcher to the next, but for all of us the challenge is to collect, as broadly as possible, stories and statements from our informants about their lives and doings, while, at the same time, search for occasions where we may observe and to some extent participate in the settings, where our informants move. The purpose is to come out of the endeavor with a better understanding of the social and cultural trappings that direct the lives of those we study.

Bengt and Sol live lives at the margins of the Norwegian society. Both have little going for them in the legitimate economy. Neither of them holds positions regulated by the open labor market. But, both have acquired skills and contacts over the years that have made it possible for them to uphold positions that have, if nothing else, helped them sustain their consumption of heroin.  Their shared cultural framework is applicable in social arenas where they move, in between others who live lives completely different from them, and for whom, this framework is hardly known. Yet for those, like Bengt and Sol, who are in the know, any chance encounter will bring forth the framework in a split second. They immediately recognize each other as co-habitants of the same drug world.  Their drug world may be on the margins. But the concept “drug world” doesn’t have to be a delineation of marginal social groups. I have, in the course of my work, come across communities of pot smokers and ecstasy users, made up of participants, who combined their participation in these settings, with living ordinary lives within the regular economy (Moshuus, Vestel, and Rossow 2002).

The Sweet and the Bitter

Still the main bulk of the research literature focuses on drugs in relation to marginalization, whether it is in relation to deviant behavior patterns or in relation to psychiatric problems (Farrell and Taylor 1994). Pedersen has published a number of findings on youth and drugs; mainly from a longitudinal study. In a book from 1998, based on these findings, “Bitter Søtt”, or “Bitter Sweet”, Pedersen argues, as the title suggests, that a broader perspective of drug consumption must include both the problematic sides and the positive ones within the same grasp (Pedersen 1998).

Pedersen views drug consumption within a continuum where smoking a piece of hashish may signal knowledge and identification with groups of high value in society while excessive intake of hashish reveals social marginality. Pedersen identifies a social terrain of drug consumption where youth who grows up to become regular members of society balance out their drug use between the hazardous and the playful. Drug consumption plays a role in relation to social integration; drug use serves as one of few passages rites to adulthood, through drugs youth have an arena for sensation seeking. For Pedersen the core component of the sweet side of drug consumption is the sense of community and belonging created through drug consumption in the company of others.

For instance, Pedersen suggests that the diffusion of the house culture that took place from England to youth settings all over the Western hemisphere, happened because the collective consumption of ecstasy rolled into house culture created a sense of intense community among the participants living in post-industrial societies marred by rootlessness and upheaval of old structures. Pedersen identifies the bitter side of drug consumption with the relation between excessive intake of drugs and lack of social integration. Pedersen suggests that a central component of this consumption is a need of self medication.

Rossow and Lauritzen (1999) found that, in a large sample of drug addicts admitted to treatment in Norway, almost half reported having had one or more life-threatening overdoses while one third reported one or more suicide attempts. The study also showed that suicide attempts were more often reported by those who had overdosed. 

Turning back to Bengt and Sol and my study of their social arenas, the question I feel a need to ask is; how have I dealt with the ambiguity of their consumption? I have already indicated that both have managed through deployment of skills and contacts to maintain a career as heroin consumers over a fairly long period. Sol is in her fifties now, and, even though Olagate is no more, she is still part of the same world Bengt moves in. Have I then over-emphasized the sweet side of their consumption? Have I over-emphasized their adaptation as that of a life strategy in neglect of the bitter, the destructive sides of their consumption? Rossow and Lauritzen’s study of drug addicts suggest that the bitter side in the environment of Bengt and Sol is present in ample measure. Their study shows that the deeper the involvement with heavy drugs the higher is the risk of self-destruction. Instead of venturing on a defense of my own study I would like to discuss how the approaches of a few more experienced colleagues with the use of ethnographical tools have met this challenge. Hopefully this discussion will bring further attention to how the sweet and the bitter sides of drug consumption interact.

Tobacco consumption is decreasing in western societies and Pedersen suggests that modern tobacco consumers more and more should be understood in terms similar to those Lysgaard used in his classic study, “Arbeidskollektivet”, or “the work community”, about workers establishing parallel communities with their own norms and values defying management directives (Lysgaard 2000). While tobacco is overall rejected for health reasons, we find resisting smokers who form tight-nit collectives where the value ascribed to tobacco is reversed and where the smokers themselves find recognition from their peers for their own practice. Central to the perspectives I will address here is similar processes and the intriguing question is this: To what extent is what we study expressions of resistance and to what extent is it self-destruction? It is after all one thing to talk about tobacco and yet another to address consumption of heavy drugs like crack and heroin.

One colleague using ethnographical tools in the study of heroin consumers, the Swedish researcher, Svensson, started out with the assumption that there was solidarity among heroin users and that this was the main attraction of the lifestyle. Svensson found this refuted by his findings (Svensson 1996, Svensson 2000). His study led him to a position where he found extensive sociality but no solidarity. Instead he looks for interpretations comparing the users’ relation to heroin with a love affair. To understand the career of a heroin consumer Svensson suggests that we compare it to the different ramifications a love relation can have. He concludes that the heroin users “reason for leading a life as a drug user is the drug, not the lifestyle” (2000:150). I mention Svensson’s study here as it serves as a perspective that downplays the importance of the community for our understanding of the users careers. I’m convinced Svensson would view heroin consumption as something that starts at the sweet side as a love affair only to end up as what destroys the user at the bitter end; the destruction is in some sense to be found within the drug, or the drug consumption itself. The following ethnographers do not completely disagree with Svensson. But they develop further the community aspect of heavy drug consumption. This will bring us closer to the comparison Pedersen did between the resilient tobacco smokers and management-defying workers communities.

Dealing as fast life

Bengt and Sol aren’t only heroin consumers; they are also involved in transactions. Adler (1985) has focused on the dealing aspect of the drug worlds. She studied dealers in California working with marihuana and cocaine. She focuses on the upper levels of the economy. Her insights are of value here. She found it inadequate to focus on organizational and occupational perspectives to comprehend the participants’ involvement. The upper level dealers weren’t just businessmen. Adler found dealers well organized and rational in order to stay in business, but their real motivation was never business, their motivation was fun and pleasure. Illicit economies are not mirror reflections of the established business sector. Instead we should search for how these economies are individual rebellions against establishment. The dealers’ involvement was attempts to obtain alternative forms of pleasure.

I followed two upper level dealers serving ecstasy to the club scene in Oslo; their job was negotiating deals over the phone. They arranged anonymous and quick encounters between buyers and sellers who met in desolate places like parking lots or parking houses. The two men were also into smuggling operations. I observed, not without disbelief, how the two dealers spent a whole week honing and shining their extremely expensive toy cars, cars they handled by remote control in the parks of the city. Enormous amounts of cash were spent. Yet in the end the cars were abandoned. Both men lost all interest. And; Bengt told me he was hooked on dealing just as much as he was on shooting heroin. But first he told me he spent all his waking hours with one mobile phone to both ears. His girlfriend handled a third. In all phones he kept up an intense rhythm of buying and selling heroin. The frenzy of it all filled his life with excitement.

Both the ecstasy dealers and Bengt gave me glimpses into their lives as businessmen. Their motive wasn’t that of doing business. They were having fun. Their motive was living it out here and now. The two ecstasy dealers handled enormous amounts of money. It was a very businesslike atmosphere. They handled everything on a number of mobile phones in front of them. Yet neither of them had any savings like a bank account or any real estate. And when Bengt’s heroin business peaked it was because he changed to cocaine; he was spending up to 15 000 NOK a day on drugs. So none of the dealers I met saved anything. It was all spent instantly.

Adler found the drug dealers motivated by “hedonistic materialism”. Adler suggests that at least the upper level dealers, become more and more involved because the world offer them a fast life, where they can have instant gratification and pleasures. She argues that the drug world made the participants indulge in sensations and experiences craved by society at large but which are denied us because the bureaucratization of our lives put harness on our desires to achieve instant gratifications.

Alder studied participants with middle class background. Few had criminal records prior to participating in this illicit economy. Adler was in effect studying very resourceful participants in the drug world. One can question Adler’s interpretation of her informants’ “true selves” and her understanding of the relation between modern society and man’s “true being”. But her analysis of the relation between dealing and pleasure suggests that to focus only on the relation the drug user has to his or her drug may leave out important parts of what the sweet side of their consumption is about. The two ecstasy dealers, as well as Bengt, are all of them drug consumers, but their dealing also point to a wish for a life that gives instant pleasures in more ways that just consuming their favorite drug. Still the middle class bias of Adler’s ethnographic sample inhibited a further inspection of the relation between the world of the dealers and that of normal business. Adler says that the dealers indulge in a kind of life closer to our “brute being”. But is that the core of the explanation for involvement with the drug world?

Drugs and Resistance

Like Adler, both Williams (1990) and Padilla (1992), have studied entrepreneurs. But where Adler studied upper level dealers of middle class background, both Williams and Padilla studied participants from deprived neighborhoods. Yet, both of them refuse to interpret the participants’ involvement with drugs as a simple reflection of their deprived living conditions. In The Gang as an American Enterprise Padilla studied Puerto Rican youth living in a poor Chicago neighborhood and followed how they failed to find any openings for them within the educational system or in the regular employment sector. Adler focuses on drug dealing in relation to desire for instant gratification and pleasure seeking. Here we are confronted with the nitty-gritty of drug dealing as a way of making out. Padilla focuses on how the street dealing goes beyond being a breadwinning activity to give the youth new identities that provide them with social status and respect in the neighborhood.

Admittedly, the ethnography of Padilla reveals how involvement with drug was primarily a business proposition, not all of the youth were into consumption. Several of his informants did, however, develop drug problems of their own, working as dealers. Also Williams study, The Cocaine Kids, suggests that collective social resistance is integral to the drug experience, in contrast to Adler’s focus on individual pleasure seeking. And, if Padilla’s work was mainly on youth entering into the drug economy for the business opportunities denied them elsewhere, Williams study shows youth primarily involved with drugs to cover their own consumption, all the same, formed a businesslike collective that resembled the gang described by Padilla. Williams followed the rise and undoing of a drug ring made up of 8 youth of mixed immigrant origins in a poor neighborhood in New York. The drug ring developed as powder cocaine consumption grew to new heights and it was toppled as the market changed to crack. Most of the members took out as much as they could of their earnings in consumption, while they dreamt of realizing a conspicuous consumption that would set them on par with the affluent society surrounding their neighborhood. Williams reveals how disorganized most of their families were and how the group filled in that role for several of them. But, more importantly, the group seems to have served them with a social identity as successful business people connecting them both to a profitable trade, and connecting them with their visions of the good life. These cocaine kids imitated the lifestyles of the affluent society, but at the same time, they managed, if only for a short time, to construct a social system, the drug ring that allowed them to reject the low paid jobs offered them in the surrounding society.

Only one of the kids Williams studied managed to do business later on in the legitimate economy. One of the ecstasy dealers I met is now in long term treatment, and the other has fled the country, trying to dodge a long term imprisonment. Olagate, that made up the foundation, not only of Sol’s retail business, but also of her social existence, is no more. Sol herself is in prison. So is Bengt, and his future business plans had little bearing, making him seriously consider medical treatment as a way out. The drug world as life strategy, the sweet side, is maybe, about the drug, as suggested by Svensson, but as Adler’s study indicated, the consumption is set within a cultural framework that defies the framework in use by surrounding society, whereas both the work of Padilla and Williams suggest that we also have to bring into focus how the consumption is set within social collectives offering resistance to the lack of opportunities in the regular economy. But no one has demonstrated more clearly than Bourgois how the sweet side of the drug is bringing with it its own doom; the bitter side. 

Drugs and Destruction

Bourgois has done ethnographic research in and outside a crack house in New York’s Spanish Harlem (1995), he also reported from the heroin scene in the same neighborhood (1998a) and he has studied street level heroin users in San Francisco (1998b).  In the study on street users in San Francisco he showed how his informants systematically held back information and even lied about their drug practices in questionnaires made by local public health services. To report correctly about their injecting practices, with extensive sharing and regular failure of cleaning the utensils, would not only reveal the extreme HIV risks they were taking several times every day, but also, reveal them as reckless and stupid. “Deep down inside they know they are failures.” As Bourgois says. But to tell the interviewer would drill the humiliation home and make them appear socially as self-destructive and irresponsible.

Bourgois portrays a street user; Hogan. Hogan has an existence at the very lowest level of the homeless heroin users. He is stealing and begging cotton balls from the others. These cotton balls are used to filter the liquid heroin solution into the syringe. A couple of male street dealers on Plata, the by now dissolved outdoor market in Oslo, showed me how they hid away the used cotton balls in their jackets, as a safe deposit, should they on a later stage be out of regular provisions. Users in Olagate, who had ran out of money, would beg for cotton balls left behind by others. Hogan, Bourgois’ cotton ball thief, was using contaminated heroin from the cotton balls of others, every single time he set an injection. Yet, when he was asked about his practices by the local health services Hogan told them that he only shared syringes with his old lady. What escaped the interviewer here was that Hogan hadn’t been with a female in a very long time and that the lady in question was Hogan’s life-long companion, the lady Heroin.

Bourgois suggests that, what we witness in situations like these, are drug users who have to balance out their own internalization of society’s judgments on substance misuse, and their pride of their street existence. Hogan’s lie reflect that to admit to others, and thereby to himself, the full extent of how his daily practices was dangerous and utterly self destructive would make it impossible for him to maintain his identity on the street. This is one of many examples where Bourgois shows how even the most marginal must be studied as an agent of his, or her, own destiny, even when that destiny is his, or her, doom, as in the case of Hogan, the cotton ball thief. The story of people like Hogan, like the stories of Bengt, Sol and others I have met in Oslo’s drug world are stories of resistance that brings with it it’s own destruction.

Bourgois takes his argument one step further. “In fact, he writes, street dealers, addicts, and criminals become the local agents administrating the destruction of their surrounding community”(Bourgois 2004:303). In other words, the marginal bring upon themselves their own destruction as if they were on commission from affluent society around them.

Briefly, his argument is this: All life is a search for dignity. Dignity is gained in comparison with other groups, often in terms of consumption. Inner city life, in the USA, has become bereft of opportunities in the regular economy. Instead the cocaine and heroin industries have offered openings and employment opportunities. These industries have fuelled a street culture with conspicuous consumption making it possible for participants to find a measure of dignity setting them on par with the rest of society. Involvement with the street culture makes it possible for the participants to openly refuse low wages, poor working conditions and discriminatory practices offered them in the regular economy. The tragedy is that the industries that provide the street culture with its material base, the drug industry, is at the same time destroying it.

We cannot directly apply Bourgois’ analysis of structural inequalities in urban USA to the inner city areas of Oslo. The social inequalities here are of a less dramatic nature. We have no parts of Oslo where youth grow up, completely without openings in the employment sector. Instead we have many more discreet social mechanisms within our meritocratical society, opening up for more or less individualized careers taking some to the margins of our society as school losers, petty criminals, drug users and so on.

Bourgois’ argument brings out how the lives of long term heroin users like Bengt and Sol are struggles to maintain social dignity even as they face their self-destruction. His argument also suggests that we search for how Bengt and Sol administer their own self destruction as the result of structural inequalities imposed upon them from the rest of society. In order to suggest how this might happen I need to bring in one last perspective; the idea of the drug world as subculture.

Drugs and Subculture

Rita was a young female heroin shooter who developed a very close relationship to Sol. For a while she thought of Sol as her mother. During Rita’s increasing involvement with Sol and Olagate she moved from using amphetamines, to start injecting heroin. There was nothing special about Rita’s career. Most I talked to, told similar stories of how smoking pot led to their first encounter with amphetamines and later to heroin.

So far I have presented different perspectives that have helped me broach different aspects of the drug world as life strategy, to the point where the only life strategy left was their own self destruction, as seen in Hogan, the cotton ball thief. But if we are to understand how drug users administer the structural inequalities as agents acting out their own life course we have to bring in how drugs become an involvement with death.

I only managed to talk to Rita a few times, and, when we did, we talked about Olagate and a heroin deal that had gone wrong. It was evident that Olagate at the same time was the very bottom end of her drug career, and the place that had provided her with the family she never had. When we met she was struggling together with her boyfriend, who was an amphetamine shooter, to abandon heroin and come clean using amphetamines instead. Between them they ran a little amphetamines retail operation. We had just left her boyfriend and we were going to a café to talk. He was to join up with us at the café, after attending to business. After we left her boyfriend Rita had had me stop my car at Plata, the outdoor heroin marked. She dashed out. No explanations given. Evidently her return to amphetamines was no easy task. Rita struggled to come back from the bottom end.

If we approach the drug world as a subculture, we might understand Rita’s story as the story of someone who had been to the end station of the subculture and was trying to get back. In Scandinavia, one of the exponents for approaching the drug world as a subculture is Lalander (2003), and his study of the development of a heroin community in Norrköping. The value of Lalander’s perspective here has to do with how the perspective allows us to comprehend how heroin is about death.

Everywhere we find ideas that distinguish between softer and harder drugs. Heroin is persistently on the hard side. For anyone in mainstream society, heroin is associated with death and self destruction. There is no reason to believe that participants in the drug world perceive this differently. It is no coincidence that almost all drug careers, like Ritas’, are movements from softer to harder drugs. Lalander draws on the work of Willis, who studied how working class boys as the lads, and as motorbike boys, developed their own lifestyles, articulated in resistance to the middle class society they found difficult mastering (Willis 1978). Like Willis, Lalander found groups of youth who created their own lifestyle, transgressing prevailing ideas of moral and respectability in Norrköping. Well aware of the establishment rules and directives they developed their own antithesis. Developing out of the local party drug scene young people in Norrköping came together adapting the styles reminiscent of earlier transgressors like the hippies, in the concept of the drifter. The image helped them live out their lives in a move to seize the moment, to live here and now and dispel of all middle class values of planning ahead and prepare for the future. The sense of community in the consumption of drugs, the efforts procuring it, mastering the techniques of administering them; all of these activities became part the transgressions that helped the participants create themselves as belonging to an in-group in the image of the drifter in opposition to society (the out-group) around them. The youth started out with softer drugs and moved on to become heroin users. Why? First, Norrköping didn’t have any established heroin communities. The down and out were consuming amphetamines not heroin. Heroin was new and the first users who promoted it to the others where people in trust who looked healthy. Heroin was introduced within an atmosphere of secrecy in secluded flats that appeared almost like caves. But, argues, Lalander, heroin wouldn’t have gotten its position if it wasn’t so intimately tied to death. Or as Lalander writes: “[H]eroin (..) is a matter of approaching death, but not as we mostly perceive it, (…) that everything becomes (merely) black, but rather an approach to what death symbolizes in our culture, (…) (Lalander 2003:164). Here we are at a crucial point when it comes to the value of the subculture approach. Heroin is associated with death in modern society. Heroin means going under, the final end to things. The subculture approach brings out how heroin is appropriated by individuals on the farther end of society’s perimeter as an expression of their own ultimate dissociation with society, by endorsing society’s end point. Lalander’s Norrköping was a new heroin town. Heroin-as-death was initially a very strong symbol of chaos negating middle class society, enabling young healthy participants to find a community of their own outside the establishment.

The End Station Community

Oslo is not a new heroin town. Most heroin consumers belong to the very lowest ranks of the local drug world. The new party drugs introduced a lot of young people to heavier drugs in Oslo, just like in Norrköping. But they would avoid places like Olagate, Olagate is the end station. And yet Rita did go there, and when she did, she found the place a substitute to the family she never had. The young in Norrköping first approached heroin in an effort to distance themselves from the mainstream society. It is the other way around in Oslo. Communities of street heroin users have existed for a long time. Heroin is death. That is heroin’s attraction. It was like that in Lalander’s Norrköping, it is like that in Oslo. Heroin is the End Station Community.  Olagate as a heroin community offered Rita a way to come to terms with the individualized ways in which our meritocratical society makes her a loser. Rita did not try to distance herself from society; she tried to deal with the distance imposed upon her. Or, to paraphrase Bourgois; heroin was her way of bringing upon herself the destructions she suffered, at the losing end of the Norwegian society. The heroin communities like Olagate, understood as a subculture, offer people at the margins a collective way of coming to terms with being society’s underdogs – and as they become members of the End Station Community the membership may undo some of the effect of being at the End Station as Lalander suggests in his study of Norrköping’s young drug users. But becoming a member of the End Station Community certainly does not remove all of the effect of being at the society’s perimeter. Rita isn’t the only heroin user who wants to get out.

So what is the answer? Is the drug world a way of living or is it a way of dying? The field notes reveal the same as suggested by the ethnographic literature; heroin is sweet, the bitter only arrives as all control with the drug is lost. The sweet is not in the drug alone; the sweet is in the resistance the drug community offers each of the participants. In Oslo, the resistance helps them deal collectively with the stamp each of them has received of being society’s underdog. In other words, to grasp the role played by heroin we need to bring in the bigger picture. Heroin consumption takes place within meaningful frames, frames that come into place as a reflection of social mechanisms that send some and not others of us to society’s perimeter. In some instances consumption of heroin is experiments with that which symbolize society’s end station, but in most instances heroin consumption is a way to deal with the distance imposed upon the marginalized by the surrounding society.


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[i] This is a slightly edited version of my trial lecture for the doctoral degree at the University of Oslo, given 26th august 2005.