Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Harm is a concept that punctuates public health discourses on addiction today. What does harm mean in a place that is not Western, not free and not open? While some emphasize the human rights potential of harm reduction, others speak to the violence of harm, what Eli Clare calls the violence of cure. How do we balance the implicitness of care and cure bound up in a concept like harm reduction in a therapeutic treatment center in China? This TC breathes vulnerability due to its lack of government funding and critiques by an authoritarian state bent in squelching outliers. While Sunlight Therapeutic Community was a collaboration between the provincial ministry of health and a foreign NGO, that alliance was always fragile. I argue that harm might have something to do with the internal activities of care and the external architectural space of a displacement. After following Sunlight for eight years, the ideal to reduce harm, which I distinguish from harm reduction in the West, became real for most residents. Here, I discuss what I call the discontents of harm and its links to the concepts of care and cure. How do the global semantics of care affect both ideologies of harm reduction and residents' desires to regain wholeness, or what Clare calls reconstruction? Where does a therapeutic ethnography of addiction leave us, and me, in deconstructing the semantics of addiction, the desires of recovery, and the discontents of harm in a community out of place and out of time?