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The ‘ontological politics of drug policy’: a critical realist approach

Stevens, Alex (2019) The ‘ontological politics of drug policy’: a critical realist approach. In: 13th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy, 22-24 May 2019, Paris. (Unpublished) (KAR id:73517)


This paper explores the question of what we can consider to be real in drug policy. It examines two common approaches in drug policy analysis (and criminology more broadly); radical constructionist critique and successionist data science. It shows how researchers using both approaches have produced valuable findings, but also demonstrates the theoretical incoherence of their ontological assumptions, based on their shared ‘flat ontology’. The radical constructionist detachment of knowledge from an independently existing reality – seen in some qualitative studies - is shown to be unsustainably self-defeating. As acknowledged by Annemarie Mol, it is analytically ‘paralyzing’. This leads to two common inconsistencies in radical constructionist studies; crypto-empiricism and ersatz epistemic egalitarianism. The Humean successionist approach of econometric data science is also shown to be unsustainable and unable to provide explanations of identified patterns in data. Four consequent, limiting characteristics of this type of research are discussed: causal inference at a distance, monofinality, limited causal imagination, and overly confident causal claims. The paper goes on to describe and exemplify a critical realist ontology for drug policy analysis based on Roy Bhakra’s 'Realist Theory of Science'. The ‘depth ontology’ of this approach enables more deeply explanatory, methodologically eclectic and democratically inclusive analysis of drug policy development and effects.

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Paper)
Uncontrolled keywords: drug policy; ontology; constructuonism; data science; critical realism
Subjects: H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Depositing User: Alex Stevens
Date Deposited: 17 Apr 2019 08:18 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 23:30 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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