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Complex events: drug effects and emergent causality.

This article situates drug harm-reduction scholarship within an immanent tradition that emphasizes how nature and culture are differently mixed into each other depending on the "actual occasions" in which drug practices take shape and the manner in which their constituent elements come together (Whitehead, 1978). (1) It argues that harm reduction involves a particular way of attending to events-in-process, or processes of eventuation, in which events and their effects--informed by the pasts and trajectories of the objects drawn into them--are nonetheless not knowable in precise detail prior to their emergence. This unknowability summons a particular mode of attentiveness that seeks out unexpected offshoots, emergent tendencies--the corollaries, connections, contortions and transformations associated with interventions into drug scenes. I contrast this approach with the commanding simplicity of the transcendent moralism that animates normative approaches to drug use and the appeal these often make to linear and delimited notions of causation. This appeal can be seen in the apparently unassailable conviction that drug use is wrong and that the mainstay of policy must be to deter drug use by sending a message about danger and illegality. Such a stance does not automatically invoke notions of linear causation, to be sure. But when it assumes the power to trump all other considerations of a given operation's effects--lateral, downstream, unintended, or otherwise--you can be sure that what is being claimed is the right to extract the intervention from its sphere of operation; to transcend the material world in which drug practices take shape in its bid to make an overriding statement of right and wrong. In such instances, an effect is typically claimed for police crackdowns and demonstrations of enforcement and that effect is deterrence. What is also being claimed here is the power to bracket certain effects that may follow from the operation, including effects that negatively impact people's health or put them in danger. Hence my claim about the model of causation that is typically invoked by these absolutist positions: It is linear and it is delimited. It is linear because it positions deterrence as a direct and unidirectional effect, and it is delimited because this is the only effect deemed relevant. Instead I promote a topological approach to harm reduction in which drug enforcement practices are cast as immanent to their sphere of operation and understood to participate in processes of what William Connolly has termed emergent causality (2004). (2) As we shall see, this requires an eye, a nose, a feeling for complexity.

My domain of concern is the changing materialization of urban gay life in Sydney, Australia over the last decade, and in particular how to understand the changing patterns of drug use that have been associated with this transforming scene and that constitute it in part. This period has been marked by collectively voiced disaffection that has recurred in community media and everyday discourse concerning the changing nature of gay space, in particular the perceived decline of some of the traditional venues, sites and institutions of gay socialization. My analysis emerges from a project on "Changing Spaces of HIV Prevention," a cultural analysis of transformations in sexual sociability among gay and homosexually-active men supported by an ARC Discovery Grant awarded in 2012. The research is motivated by my own immersion in the urban gay culture of inner Sydney as well as my participation since 1996 in the HIV policy field as a researcher and cultural producer. Informed by insights gained through personal participation in urban gay scenes and institutions in Australia, my research process aims to test these perceptions, situate them, and make them available for transformation through considered encounters with multiple sources of data including historical, textual, qualitative and quantitative material, specialized literature, as well as conceptual labor. (3) In empirical terms, I have collected accounts of the experiences of urban gay spaces and events from gay community media since 2000. Letters to the editor and online readers' comments have served as a particularly rich source of information on how key events and spaces have been variously experienced and contested by participants. Qualitative interviews have been conducted with participants in the urban gay scenes of Sydney and Melbourne for this project since 2012. Interviews focus on participant's sexual and social arrangements and how their experiences of these have changed over time. Within these parameters, interviews are open-ended and designed to be responsive to participants' experiences and what they make available for conversation as well as matters of concern that bear on the research questions and have emerged as topical in gay community discourse over the period of research. Twenty-five interviews with individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds have been conducted thus far. (4) The research has also encompassed analysis of the scientific, policy and governmental practices that attempt to grasp the field in question including consideration of how these participate in the field's ongoing materialization. (5) I have observed police drug detection operations, both formally and informally, as a patron of gay venues in Sydney and a trained volunteer for LGBTI interagency initiatives designed to monitor police activities at the Mardi Gras dance party and provide support to party goers ("Project Blue" in 2010, 2011 and "Fair Play" in 2014). Analysis of the interviews and other material collected for this project has focused on how spaces of gay sexual sociability have been grasped and experienced by participants (whether agencies or persons) with particular attention to manners of apprehension and how these are distributed among participants, producing subject positions. (6)

Sniffer dogs

A matter of significant concern for the collective I am engaging has been the emergence of a particular style of "high-profile" policing involving the use of sniffer dogs for purposes of drug enforcement. Dog squads began to appear on Sydney streets after the 2000 Olympics when the surplus animals used for event-policing operations were retrained for drug detection purposes and deployed as part of police cohorts assigned to precincts identified as drug hotspots. One of the first operations involved 300 police officers and the media units of all the major newspapers raiding a straight nightclub on Oxford Street (the epicenter of the urban gay scene in Sydney), leading to the arrest of two people. (7) More typically sniffer dogs started to appear spearheading cohorts of 4 to 10 police officers roving up and down the streets of key recreational precincts. Sometimes led through licenses premises, nightclubs, or else stationed at train stations or the entrance of music festivals and dance events, they are used to search members of the public and incoming and outgoing patrons without a warrant. After a court ruling challenged their legality, their use was formalized in the Police Powers (Drug Detection) Act (2001). The act mobilizes a spatial logic to justify their use and limit it to particular premises and events as well as designated public transport routes on the basis that these spaces constitute "well-known drug dealing areas." (8) The conspicuous presence of large numbers of uniformed police using sniffer dogs to conduct searches outside dance parties and in key recreational precincts, and the perceived aggression this strategy appears to embody, has been a source of bitter complaint and community unrest, including groundswells of concern in gay community media in 2007, 2009, and most recently 2013 (see Race, 2011). In 2013, police activities surrounding Mardi Gras provoked a collective uprising, the likes of which hadn't been seen since 1978 (the clash with police from which Mardi Gras itself emerged). Community members took to the streets en masse to protest the brutality and aggression associated with policing of the event.

It is interesting to consider the practices and logics that inform these policing practices. As an arrest-oriented strategy, drug dogs are said to furnish the reasonable suspicion that police require to stop and search members of the public without a warrant. Dog behaviors, such as sitting in front of an individual, are said to authorize a search since they are taken as an indication of likely drug possession. But in other police representations, drug indications do not require a specified behavior and are said to be uniquely discernible by the handler on the basis of the special relationship between handler and dog. (9) So while dog indications are supposed to objectify the question of reasonable suspicion, dog handlers are uniquely positioned as the authorized spokespeople or interpreters of these nonhuman indications. This gives police considerable leeway in the allegation of reasonable suspicion, lowering the threshold--or tipping the balance--between innocence and suspicion that protects members of the public from being randomly stopped by police and subject to invasive and unwarranted searching.

The capacity of the dogs to reliably detect drugs has been repeatedly questioned in independent investigations, and the occurrence of false positives is typical. In a review of the strategy required by the Act conducted by the NSW Ombudsman and published in 2006 (NSW Ombudsman, 2006), three out of four searches failed to yield any illicit substances at all, while trafficable quantities of drugs were uncovered in a tiny 1.4% of indicated searches. As well as casting doubt on the method's capacity to detect drugs reliably, these figures demonstrate that it is grossly ineffective for detecting drug dealers. In other words, it is oriented to drug users and innocent members of the public rather than the processes of drug supply that are said to constitute the official priority of drug enforcement measures. When these points have been put to authorities, such as the Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research as well as the police, the findings are not taken as an indication of failure; rather, authorities point to the deterrent effects of the strategy (though no evidence of this is generally cited) (Simmons, 2011).

This background enables us to situate drug detection dogs as a hybrid strategy emerging from the combination of several different policing practices and objects, each with their own rationality and logic. As an arrest-oriented strategy it gives a specific formulation to stop and search procedures by delegating certain prerequisites of the practice required by the law to nonhuman actors, that is, dogs. But since drug dealing constitutes such a tiny proportion of arrests, it would be implausible to hold that arrests are effectively levelled at drug supply. Instead, authorities situate this measure as preventative and claim the effect of general deterrence. The reference to general deterrence through increased police visibility and the legislation's deployment of a spatial logic suggests that the strategy is continuous with public order policing rather than targeted drug enforcement (see Maher & Dixon, 1999). (10) In this respect, criminological discourse on the policing of hot spots, rather than drug enforcement, offers some of the most significant precedents. So my next step is to examine how questions of space and causation are framed within "hot spots" discourse.

Policing hot spots

Most of the governing enthusiasm for high-profile drug enforcement in specific locations is indebted to the notion of hot spots that emerged in a series of experimental studies conducted in the mid-1990s primarily by criminologist David Weisburd and colleagues (Green, 1995; Sherman & Weisburd, 1995; Weisburd & Green, 1995). Faced with widespread skepticism about the deterrent effects of police presence in urban locations, Weisburd initiated a series of randomized controlled trials that set out to test whether the visible presence of uniformed police caused any measurable reduction in crime. The controlled trial method is distinctive in that it bids researchers to assemble conditions in which linear causation can be claimed and tested. As researchers state: "Although experimental program evaluations are difficult to implement, they allow researchers to define unambiguous links between causes and effects" (Weisburd & Green, 1995, p. 718). By measuring crime calls in the experimental group compared to the control group over a given period, researchers set out to assess whether a given "dosage" of police presence acts as a deterrent, and this is understood as a linear relation between the intervention and its intended effects. We can see in this terminology how the templates of in vivo clinical research are being extrapolated to conduct these social experiments. What is remarkable when revisiting this literature from a critical perspective is how explicitly the concept of the hot spot is depicted as an abstraction required by the experimental design--that is, a solution to statistical problems. When larger areas such as patrol beats or neighborhoods were taken as the unit of analysis--as they had been in previous studies--"the weak statistical power of such designs makes it very difficult to find an effect of patrol" since increased police presence amounts to a "drop in the ocean" (Sherman & Weisburd, 1995, p. 626). Focusing on hot spots--defined as "very small clusters of high-crime addresses" (p. 626)--allows researchers to increase the statistical power of the study by constructing a large enough sample of comparable locations to avoid the problem of bias towards the null hypothesis. Researchers claim this quite explicitly as the principle advantage of the concept rather than its adequacy or degree of fit for addressing specific social or criminal dynamics.

We can see here how the controlled trial acts as a "framing device" in which certain effects are constituted as measures of the success or failure of the intervention, with other effects rendered as externalities, beyond the researchers' field of vision (Race, 2012). While there is some acknowledgement in this literature of the fact that crime may be displaced to other areas, this question is subordinated to the linear determination of causation. Displacement is the concept used to acknowledge (and typically bracket) the fact that policing hot spots may just "push crime around." In one of the most significant studies, researchers handle this issue by limiting their claims to what they call "micro-deterrence"--that is, reduction of crime and disorder in the designated areas (Sherman & Weisburd, 1995). In studies devoted more specifically to policing drug markets, researchers do make some attempt to measure displacement (Green, 1995). Typically they monitor crime calls and drug arrests in immediately surrounding areas, or reapply the criteria initially used to define hot spots in the period after the intervention to determine whether new drug markets have emerged in new areas (Weisburd & Green, 1995). These methods reveal some limited displacement, and also some diffusion of benefits. But they also open up the question of spatiality and how to conceive it in relation to drug practices.

Hot spot studies of policing drug markets are conspicuous for the concept of space they mobilize. In their focus on public spaces they are uniquely concerned with the visible aspects of street-based drug markets. The assumption in these studies is that drug transactions take place in topographical locations that are bounded, geometric, three-dimensional and publicly accessible. There is no sense that space is enacted or folded through the specific practices or objects that constitute drug markets. In later ethnographies (which I will turn to in a moment) researchers found that when confronted with police crackdowns, street-based dealers and users made use of (what at the time were) new technologies such as mobile phones and beepers to conduct drug transactions (Aitken, Moore, Higgs, Kelsall, & Kerger, 2002; Maher & Dixon, 1999). This shows that drug marketplaces are not reducible to the abstracted topographic space of city maps--a space with linear, geometric dimensions that drug markets just take place "in." Rather, drug transactions constitute their own space and temporality, eventuated through the objects, devices, practices and environments through which they are enacted. Though experimental hot spot studies of drug markets make some attempt to acknowledge and measure the potential displacement of their object of concern, these attempts remain wedded to geometric notions of space while their object remains fixed. It could be argued that monitoring crime calls and drug arrests in immediately surrounding areas only skims the surface of a range of potential practices of avoidance.

There are other problems with the spatiality of hot spot studies and their applicability to drug markets. Since their locus of concern is the visible aspects of streetscapes--public spaces and public disorder--little attention is given to the effect of policing on drug practices themselves, that is, transformations in the shape or qualities of drug practices engendered by police crackdowns and any corresponding health implications for users. Indeed, the notion of deterrence in hot spot studies makes no attempt to register or measure any health effects at all (not even prevalence of use in a given population). This raises serious questions about the appropriateness of this concept or practice within drug policy discourse. In these studies, many of the material dimensions of drug practices escape from view, most significantly modes of drug consumption. It is only in the context of ethnographic studies concerned with harm reduction that such health-related activities and effects come into explicit view. So my next step is to turn to these ethnographic studies and theorize the particular training of attention they embody.

Crackdown ethnographies

In a series of important papers published in the late 1990s and early 2000s (Aitken et al., 2002; Maher & Dixon, 1999, 2001;), drug ethnographers analyzed the impact of police crackdowns on drug markets (specifically, heroin markets in Sydney and Melbourne). What they found were various forms of displacement--not only geographic displacement, but also social, temporal and practical forms--with significant public health implications. One of the distinctive things about these studies was their attention to the effect of law enforcement on drug practices and the corresponding health implications for users. It is not surprising that it took ethnographic studies to yield such insights, since ethnography affords close engagement with the experiences and "life-worlds" of users while directing attention to the settings of those experiences. It involves multiple forms of engagement: talking to people as well as watching them doing things (Maher & Dixon, 1999; Stimson, 1995). When compared with methods that use predetermined measures of effects and causation (such as controlled trials), this provides a wider opening on the circumstances and relations through which various events and practices are constituted. Ethnography affords the capacity to notice and keep track of a wider range of happenings and circumstances including unexpected incidents and lateral developments.

What is also noteworthy is ethnography's capacity to attend to affective climates and not just meanings: how particular circumstances give rise to particular states of apprehension that inform subsequent actions and developments. Hence the main finding of Maher and Dixon's (1999) article:

The impact of a highly visible uniformed police presence in Cabramatta has substantially increased the risk that those who participate in drug use and distribution will come to police attention. This has created a climate of fear and uncertainty which has resulted in a number of unforeseen negative consequences. (1999, p. 496, emphasis added)

The attention to affect here and its production and circulation permits a multiform account that encompasses processes of downwards and backwards causation: that is, not just whether event A causes event B, but also how event A is experienced by the various actors who are party to it, affecting the capacities and actions that constitute their responses to it (conceived as multiple) and the processes in which these responses participate, so as to give rise not just to event B but also events C, D, and so forth, that in turn may get folded into still other processes of eventuation which may alter the eventual import and material character of event A (or indeed any other event in the series). For example, Maher and Dixon (1999) found that the police crackdown in Cabramatta was leading dealers and users to store caps of heroin inside their mouths and other bodily cavities, increasing the risk of transmission of bacterial and bloodborne infections as well as overdose since people would swallow the heroin if they felt themselves to be at risk of detection. Moreover, as police became aware of this tactic, some would force open suspects' mouths or hold them violently in chokeholds for extended periods. In such encounters, participants (both human and nonhuman) aggravate, affect, and potentially infect each other in unforseen and unintended ways, becoming subject to spiralling relays in which events escalate, dangers multiply, and affects intensify to the point of strangulation. A linear account might attempt to attribute intention or causation to a single actor here, but clearly such events are much more complex and co-emergent in nature.

Among the effects of police crackdowns Maher and Dixon (1999) identified were a reluctance on the part of users to carry injecting equipment; consequent increases in injection-related risk-taking; displacement of drug injection to more dangerous locations; user disconnection from established health services; changes in the practice and nature of drug transactions; the entry of fraudulent dealers into the market which in turn increased volatility and violence; changes in the types of substances used and modes of administration (from smoking to injecting); and a deterioration of relations between police and the Indo-Chinese community. In their ethnography of a police crackdown in Footscray in Melbourne, Aitken and colleagues (2002) documented some similar effects alongside the reduced availability of drugs in the targeted area, including: more rapid turnovers of drug sales on the part of individual dealers; the adoption of new methods and locations to enable drug transactions; spatial displacement of the drug market to an entirely different neighborhood causing a blowout in local services and complaints by residents; increases in injection-related risk-taking and careless syringe disposal engendered by people's fear of being found with needles; and a greater propensity in the location for stand-overs, fraud and violence.

Topology and emergent causality

To understand the above effects as displacement is to invoke a topological imagination in which space and causation are multiform and emergent (Lury, Parisi, & Terranova, 2012). If the standard perspective on displacement can be caricatured as a "fixed supply of criminals ... seeking outlet for a fixed number of crimes they are predestined to commit" (Sherman & Weisburd, 1995, p. 629), the attention in these ethnographic studies to how crackdowns effect permutations in the very form of practices, circumstances, events, and relations suggests a radically different perspective on causality and on what is entailed in being dispersed from one place to another (the ordinary meaning of displacement). The object of concern does not remain fixed but bears the possibility of changing shape or form in its very movement and dispersal. Topology is the study of the continuities and connections that are associated with deformations in spaces and shapes (such as stretching and bending). The GIF file that appears on the Wikipedia entry for "topology" is a helpful illustration but also a little misleading because the sequence it depicts is simple and predictable. (11) Moreover, in the topological approach to drug research I am promoting the researcher is not external to the field of transformation--as though hovering above or standing outside it--but is implicated and involved in the object-process they find themselves trying to grasp constructively; an involvement with specific but as-yet-undetermined impacts on the object-process itself which in this sense may be understood as active. (This, at least, is my sense of drug ethnographers' relation to their field of praxis). A topological perspective is hinted at when Dorn and Murji (as cited by Maher & Dixon, 1999) compare drug markets to:

... a squishy balloon: apply pressure to them in one place and there will be some diminution of the problem, yet it is likely that the market will balloon out in another place or on an adjacent site, involving new and possibly more cautious or sophisticated dealers and perhaps a different range of drugs, (p. 501)

But admittedly, Dorn and Murji do not consider that the balloon could become something else entirely, like a viral pathway. To propose a topological approach to harm reduction is to promote attention to the "taking shape" of drug effects; to figure how various objects, practices, and forces enter into relations and emerge out of them. It is to understand causality as emergent and dependent on the manner in which these objects (which may also be conceived as affected entities) come together on a given occasion. For William Connolly,

[e]mergent causality, when it occurs, is causal [...] in that a movement at the immanent level has effects on another level. But it is emergent in that, first, the character of the immanent activity is not knowable in precise detail prior to the effects that emerge at the second level, second, the new effects become infused into the very being or organisation of the second level in such a way that the cause cannot be said to be fully different from the effect engendered and third, a series of loops and feedback loops operate between the first and second levels to generate the stabilized result [...] Such relays result in the emergence of the new. Emergent causation issues in real effects without being susceptible to full explanation or precise prediction in advance, partly because what is produced could not be adequately conceptualized before its production. (2004, p. 342-3)

Connolly locates this perspective as part of an approach he calls immanent naturalism, which refuses the modernist split between nature and culture and some of its traditional inheritances. Nature is no longer cast as the realm of pure determination, governed entirely by mathematical and physical laws, nor is culture viewed as the exclusive realm of transformation and freedom that expresses the power and sovereignty of humans. In the process philosophy of A.N. Whitehead (which I take to be consonant with Connolly's Deleuzian approach) what matters is the manner in which various entities--human and nonhuman--experience each other and come together, in a process he terms a "concresence of prehensions" (Whitehead, 1978). For Whitehead, it is through actual occasions of coming together that new realities emerge, a process that Mike Michael has dubbed "eventuation" (Michael, 2012). Here, objects are "enacted in practice," as Annemarie Mol has proposed (2002), but they are also "embroiled in processes of eventuation"--processes which change the properties of these objects (Michael, in press). This formula musters specific attention to processes of emergence.

If causality is understood as emergent, those concerned with drug effects might develop a sharper and more active grasp on how certain harms and pleasures take shape and change their form--that is, on how different objects, practices, and effects emerge through specific processes of eventuation with a range of concrete impacts. This would entail an openness to the sense which specific instantiations of force give rise to variegated effects, the materialization of which depends on the relations its constituent parts enter into; that is, how they are experienced, the impacts they have on each other, and what they come up against. Such instantiations may be grasped as participating in "second-order" effects that cause problems to change their shape and redefine their properties. Though the characterization is my own, I believe important precedents for this manner of grasping drug effects are discernable in the ethnographic studies of police crackdowns I discussed above, where the ethnographic orientation attunes us to the emergence of new conditions, practices, activities and objects, and the sense in which this is contingent on the manner in which police presence is apprehended and experienced, setting off relays, permutations, extensions of force and intensifications of affect that engender new drug effects and material realities.

Such a perspective on causality raises certain problems with respect to identifying the precise mechanisms of de- or transformation required by many of the disciplines of public health (i.e., linear causation). But in this article, I challenge this requirement and position this indeterminacy as the lure for a more expansive series of engagements with the experiences of various parties; how, in their coming together, these encounters produce realities that acquire specific shape and character. Such engagements would give a more adequate sense of the relevant mechanisms of causation as contingently enacted, as well as producing a more expansive perspective on potential sites of constructive intervention. As Michael (in press) states, "we cannot hope to be exhaustive in accounting for all the elements--both 'here' and 'elsewhere' as Stengers puts it--that make up such events [or processes of eventuation], but we can at least begin to trace some of the complexities entailed in them." It is with this modest aim in mind that I assemble my account of changes in the materialization of gay spaces and practices.

A topology of gay partying

In previous work I have shown how drugs have played a constituent part in the emergence and materialization of modern urban gay communities (Race, 2011). The emergence of the large-scale dance party in the 1980s and the transposition it effectuated from disco to dance culture had a marked impact on the cultural geography and affective climate of the inner-city spaces of cities such as Sydney. The concrescence of interdependent elements such as dance music, drugs such as ecstasy, and the practices of celebration and gender experimentation enacted in the parties, spaces, venues and events of gay dance culture formed a constellation of practice and experience that differentiated itself explicitly from the drinking culture of the hetero-masculine pub rock scene. With the onset of the AIDS crisis, and in the context of maximum stigma, the staging of the Mardi Gras parade and dance party became a central mechanism through which a communal sense of identity, belonging, defiant survival, presence, pleasure, care, and support was embodied and enacted among Sydney's sexual subcultures and affected publics. This environment also gave rise to innovative public health responses: The diffuse eroticism of the dance floor and the shared experience of communal venues enabled the emergence of safe sex pedagogies that sought to multiply pleasure rather than attempting to eradicate it (Race, 2009, 2011).

These subcultures made a particular use of urban space, inhabiting inner-city suburbs and urban streetscapes in ways that transformed these settings significantly (or, to borrow a term from cultural economy, "revitalized" them). Paradoxically, this set in motion processes of gentrification that have had the effect of excluding sections of these communities from accessing or residing in the neighborhoods and urban locations that once helped constitute their collective identity. Over subsequent decades, the "enterprising up" of urban space and the municipal investment in recreational zones oriented around night-time leisure and liminal consumption attracted increased numbers of recreational consumers into areas such as Oxford Street on weekend nights, bringing many of the problems associated with the emergence of urban nighttime economies generally around the world (Hobbs, Hafield, Lister, & Winslow, 2003), including violence and disorder, congestion, accident and injury, public drunkenness, territorial tensions between demographic subgroups, and--most notably in this instance--increases in homophobic violence. (12) These developments have resulted in a degraded experience of these spaces for many gay men, lesbians and trans people and a growing sense of alienation from the spaces, scenes, and venues historically and symbolically associated with the elaboration of sexual community. Simon (age 43), a gay man I interviewed, summed up a common sentiment when explaining his current preference for using online hook-up devices to meet sexual partners:

Like, I find Oxford Street is just vile. It, you know, coming to Sydney in, like I said, in the early nineties, it was really exciting. I just find it aggressive and, and frightening, actually. I don't like going there at all.

However great the challenges of policing this context--and there is no doubt these challenges are considerable--a review of the discourse on this issue in community media over the last decade reveals that police have addressed the concerns of LGBTI community regarding their experience of this setting very selectively. Complaints of police failure to respond sufficiently to homophobic violence are legion in this archive and the subject of ongoing disputes between implicated agencies. These complaints are coupled with allegations of unfair victimization and misdirected operations in which the practical arrangement of policing activities feature prominently. Community frustration with this situation is encapsulated, for example, in an annual wrap-up of significant events published at the end of 2007 in SX News:

The presence of NSW police has been similar to that of Sydney taxis: there's none when you need one but plenty when you don't. And so it was that, despite the numerous calls for more regular patrols on Oxford St to address homophobic violence, the police turned up at Azure Harbour party in sheer numbers flanked by sniffer dogs [...] The incidents had people crying foul with many claiming it was excessive and a misplaced use of resources. (SX News, 2007)

The police feature as a paradoxical object of desire in this discourse. Calls for greater numbers of local area police are as numerous in these pages as complaints about their visibility and overbearing presence. But the police are not a singular object here and what is really at stake is the qualitative object that policing operations materialize as in a given instance. From this perspective, we can begin to appreciate how the constitution of sexual minorities as objects of suspicion or rightful recipients of state care (i.e., citizens) hinges on how specific practices (e.g., the use of sniffer dogs) enacts the object of policing.

This paradox can be approached, following Whitehead (1978), in terms of how the relevant parties grasp and abstract from the world they are immersed in. Community-police exchanges from this period suggest the police largely experienced the problems of the nighttime economy through the prism of "antisocial behavior." This abstraction is closely linked with another abstraction in criminological discourse, namely "drug and alcohol-related violence" (Race, 2011). These abstractions form part of the infrastructure through which police have "learned to be affected" by the object that confronts them (Latour, 2004; Race, in press). But such abstractions are not necessarily well attuned to the specificities that constitute the object of police experience and intervention in this instance, that is, nighttime violence and consumption patterns in this particular location. Thus when police seek to maintain public order and prevent violence in the undifferentiated hot spot of the nighttime economy, they see the use of drugs dogs as a completely appropriate component of the increased visibility they have been given to believe will be one among a number of strategies that will effectively deter violence and disorder. But to members of the public who have been formed through participation in gay cultures in which party drugs have been common, the experience of these policing operations materializes as hostile and threatening. Indeed, these operations are frequently perceived by this group to be prejudicial in their targeting. Given the historical differentiation of gay dance culture from the hetero-masculine drinking culture with which a large proportion of nighttime violence is associated, this particular enactment of police powers comes across as especially unfair, contradictory and counterproductive. Sniffer dogs are trained to target just one element of drug and alcohol-related violence, but on the basis of this abstraction can be posed as one of the possible solutions to this problem. But drug and alcohol-related violence must be regarded as a complex hybrid, the constituent elements of which are differentially enacted in different configurations. Gender and its relational forms might be considered worthy of investigation as a key variable in the emergence of these affective intensities, their trajectories and patterning as violence. But at the level of policy discourse and intervention, it tends to feature as a shadow reality, backgrounded by other easier targets, that is the possession of illicit substances.

This example shows how abstractions from experimental criminology like increased police presence, hot spot, drug market, antisocial behavior, and drug and alcohol-related violence participate in contradictory, unforseen and absurd eventualities when they come into contact with the actual relations that constitute specific spaces of nighttime activity. These abstractions are not generalizable things that can be extracted from the multiple, heterogeneous relations and entities that constitute them and confer their specificity. In other words, they do not possess some transcendental substance that preexists their specifically instantiated qualities. An increased police presence is a different thing--"homophobic," "gay-friendly," "deterrent," "threatening," "reassuring," "effective"--depending on the relations in which it is situated and the practices through which it is enacted. This is also a question of how the entities that are party to an occasion grasp and are grasped by it: "the hand of the settled past in the formation of the present" (Whitehead, 1978). Indeed, to the extent that such policing practices emerge from these criminological abstractions at the expense of other forms of engagement with local communities in their enacted specificity and historical formation, we might adapt a phrase of Whitehead's in this instance to consider "the fallacy of misplaced policing." (13)

Such a phrase would seem particularly appropriate in relation to the use of hot spot logics to justify the high-profile police presence surrounding community events such as Mardi Gras dance parties. The deployment of the dog squad and large numbers of uniformed police outside such events has been a significant source of community disaffection and featured as a prominent theme in the community rally which saw thousands of people take to the streets a week after Mardi Gras 2013. This uprising was sparked when footage of a uniformed policeman brutally assaulting a young gay man was captured on the smartphone of a parade spectator and circulated on YouTube. The event formed the occasion for the articulation and development of a wider and more expansive critique of policing practices, serving as lightening rod for disaffection and anger about the policing of LGBTI community events and venues over the preceding decade. The 2013 protests regarding policing practices were heterogeneous, conflictive, and certainly not uniform; a broader analysis is beyond the scope of this article. (14) To focus on the issue of drug dogs specifically, there are significant questions about how well adapted a strategy formed through a specific objection to (and objectification of) street-based drug markets could be to this context, since the vast majority of patrons attending these events customarily organize their drugs in advance (along with their tickets, outfits, haircuts, bodies, and suntans) prior to arriving at the party. Like the dispersed space of police crackdown ethnographies, the market in question is enacted through certain devices and off-site practices. But in this instance it is very unlikely that this bears any relation to police presence: These practices have long formed part of the routines of preparation through which participants make themselves available to being affected by the occasion (Gomart & Hennion, 1999)--that is, the ritualized practices through which the pleasurable experience is customarily assembled. While a limited number of drug sales may take place on site, it is questionable whether it is appropriate to characterize this space as a drug market. Drug users and general partygoers bear the brunt of these operations, not drug suppliers. In this context two questions emerge as critical: How is drug consumption enacted (or not) in response to these interventions, and how should we understand deterrence and displacement if space is grasped as complex and causality emergent?

Partygoers respond to the presence of drug dogs at dance parties in a number of ways. Some people take their drugs to the party as usual, "running the gauntlet" in the hope of dodging detection, but if officers with dogs approach they are liable to panic--either taking all their drugs at once (putting themselves at substantial risk) or else discarding them. Some people take additional measures to conceal their drugs, storing them in condoms in bodily cavities such as the rectum or vagina. Some people preload prior to travelling to the party, taking a much larger quantity of stimulants in one dose at home in order to see themselves through several hours of partying. As well as pre-loading with stimulants, some people resort to purchasing the highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages on sale at the party which the beverage industry produces in response to the established demand for psychoactive consumption (see Measham & Brain, 2005). To ensure their enjoyment of the party, some people switch to other drugs they believe the dogs cannot detect. Replacing ecstasy with GHB--a depressant with sensory effects and the drug most commonly associated with critical incidents, ambulance calls, hospitalizations, and overdoses--is commonly mentioned. (Incidentally, these harmful incidents are more likely to take place when GHB is mixed with alcohol, the only intoxicant that is legally available at the party). Arguably, each of these practices is riskier than its precedents, giving rise to dangers that police generally deflect or externalize responsibility for by saying they are just enforcing the law and that taking drugs is illegal. In general, avoiding the dogs is communally experienced as a vexing issue, one of the elements that is dissuading many people from bothering with dance parties altogether.

But this declining interest in the dance party form is part of a more general trend in the embodiment of gay community that is itself complexly emergent and multilinear in its sources. Alongside the perceived degradation of urban spaces and communal events discussed above, a significant element has been the growing popularity of online hook-up devices and mobile apps as a mechanism for finding sexual partners (see Race, 2010, in press). If we understand the emergence of gay communities in urban centers over the 20th Century as an effect in part of material practices of finding and meeting sexual partners, as I would argue we should, we can begin to appreciate how actively these devices are also participating in the changing ontology of gay spaces. As we can see from trends in the Sydney gay periodic survey (Figure 1), a significant increase in the use of these devices since 2000 has occurred alongside decreasing participation in some of the traditional venues of gay sexual socialization. (15)

These changes are reflected in patterns of drug use that characterize these community samples (Figure 2). If we look at the figures for ecstasy use (the drug most commonly associated with dance culture) we see a significant and noticeable decline over the last decade (the period in which both the dog squad and online hook-up devices have been in operation). Although no causal relation can be established from these data, some might point to these reductions as a sign of police success, until we turn to rates of use of other drugs in this sample, where we can see that the reductions in ecstasy use are matched by an increase in the use of GHB in the order of 10% and a general rise in the use of crystal meth within a variable range of 5-10%. (16) The materiality of these changes is confirmed in discussions with service providers in community organizations, who report that most presentations for drug and alcohol services currently come from two primary sources: Younger individuals seeking help in addressing their excessive use of alcopops, and older individuals who have suffered wide-ranging social impacts associated with crystal meth dependence (relationship breakdowns, social isolation, loss of employment, financial hardship, eviction from housing, and significant deterioration of physical and mental health) (Race, fieldnotes, 2013).

Drugs like GHB and crystal meth are occasionally used in nightclubs and at dance parties. But they are also constituent elements in entirely new drug practices and modes of sexual encounter that have been made possible through the availability and widespread use of online hook-up devices (see Race, in press). The term "PNP," or "party and play," (also known as "wired play" or "chem sex") refers to the use of certain drugs to engage in sexual activity, generally in the home of a given participant. Some of the key accoutrements of this practice are depicted in this moralizing campaign image (Figure 3): the computer screen, the online profile, the crystal pipe, and so forth, all situated within the domestic space of the user. Crystal functions as a baseline drug in this context, where it is often smoked alone through a glass pipe prior to any sexual encounter. It is typically used to effectuate certain capacities: it enhances sexual sensation, but also keeps users awake and alert, enabling them to maintain the sort of focus and fixation associated with browsing profiles and watching porn for extended periods. The drug has emerged as one element in the construction of "extended sessions," wired play, chem sex, or "group play,"--terms that refer to sex with more than one partner or a sequence of partners, over several hours or even days, generally at the homes of given participants (at least in Sydney). On these occasions the drug is smoked (or sometimes injected) with sexual partners during "time out" from sexual activities. Because crystal affects erectile capacity, erectile dysfunction drugs are another constituent element in the making of this scene and their use is increasing rapidly in this population. Meanwhile, the drug GHB (the effects of which generally last about an hour) is used in this setting to initiate or reinitiate sexual activities, such that an extended or group session typically goes through various temporal phases--sex, chilling, chatting, smoking crystal, watching porn, browsing profiles, locating new participants, taking G, having sex.

Should a GHB overdose occur, participants respond in a variety of ways, but one thing is certain: They do not have easy access to the medical tents and services specifically tailored to attend to these situations in dance party contexts.

The stigmatized status of crystal in some gay circles can lead to practices of self-isolation as articulated by Dan (age 32):

With crystal, particularly, it doesn't really matter what I'm doing, I just get really focused on it. [Laughs] So, so if I'm on Scruff [a gay geo-locative app] or. and there would generally be porn in the background as well, like I'd generally be watching porn and being on Scruff at the same time, [At home? Or] at home, yeah, yeah. And, I s'pose there's a bit of shame for me around using crystal so I don't really wanna use it with other people. Again which is why I tend to spend a lot of time chatting before I actually hook up.

If online browsing does not generate the desired sexual and intimate encounters (and often it does not) the result can be disappointment, loneliness, and frustration--affects intensified by the highs and lows of the drug. The presence and storing of crystal meth in domestic locations (and its conduciveness to online activity) means that it can be integrated relatively easily into everyday personal, domestic and even labor routines; it is not self-limiting like ecstasy. Regular use leads some people to develop levels of tolerance that may prompt a transition to injecting. The entry of injecting into group sessions is associated with a burgeoning Hepatitis C epidemic in urban gay centers around the world within an environment in which it becomes difficult to distinguish between sex and drug equipment (Kirby & Thornbur-Dunwell, 2013). More generally, the pleasures and intensities of online hook-ups come to punctuate what is experienced by at least some (though not all) participants in this scene as increasingly confined and desperate terms of everyday life. As one drug and alcohol therapist informed me, "there are a lot of severely isolated people out there who are too scared to participate in communal spaces that were previously sustaining" (Race, fieldnotes, November, 2012).

Yet for all its dangers, this sexual infrastructure is also generating new spaces and practices of sociability that may be acknowledged and nudged in more inhabitable directions (see Race, in press). After all, if the party is approached as an event in which heterogeneous elements come together such that something new emerges, then trying to attend to what is emerging in all its complexity offers the best hope of responding actively and effectively to present circumstances.

Conclusion: towards a materiology of drug effects

What I've tried to articulate in this article is a manner of engaging with events-in-process that attends to the experience and activity of the multitude of elements--both human and nonhuman--that go into their shaping. I have argued that material practices and spaces are topological, and causality emergent, in ways that some of the key knowledge/power practices that shape policy interventions in this field are in the habit of ignoring. Through grounded analysis, I have identified some of the key vectors of this process and demonstrated how some of these failures in attention participate in the making of unforeseen eventualities. I find the precedents for this approach to drug effects in drug ethnographies, and the keen awareness that exists in the critical drugs field more generally regarding the potential for unforeseen consequences. Such consequences are material (and not just social) and tracking them provides a basis for sharpened reflexivity about given knowledge practices. I take this attention to knowledge practices and their effectuations to be an important aspect of topological approaches, which lend themselves to careful experimentality in the manners we devise for engaging our objects.

In this respect, I am encouraged by the fact that debates about "what is causing what here"--that is, experimental judgment--often constitute the very fabric of popular culture and community exchange. In community discourse, the question of what has been causing the degradation of gay space (drug dogs? the Internet? crystal meth? real-estate prices? the changing demography of Oxford Street?) is a topic of constant speculation and (often colorful) debate. (17) For Latour (1999), the experiment is a process through which the experimenter learns to attribute certain agencies to the world by assembling, comparing and contrasting specific relations within it. If this stands as an apt analysis of scientific practice, it also resonates with the practices of those who are being formed through this matter of concern; not least those who experiment with drugs themselves. The immanence of experimentality as part of the very fabric of popular culture (particularly cultures in which drug use features prominently) brims with potential for community engagement. What might be promoted here, in other words, is a certain democratization of attention to experimental processes. From this perspective, to be engaged with community is to participate critically in such processes of attribution, while taking time to elaborate the situatedness and specific arrangements of every process of experimentation.

By way of conclusion, I want to comment on the relation between "the medical" and "the social" that has come to haunt public health conferences in many domains in recent times. Over the course of the conference for which this article was written, I kept pondering a question that Nancy Campbell raised in her opening keynote concerning the disciplinary procedures through which scientific practices give themselves the license to speak with certainty. As she demonstrated, complexity is often acknowledged in scientific circles, but at the policy interface it operates rather like a bucket of slimy worms that someone--some discipline--must end up carrying. Getting lumped with the bucket tends to diminish any claims on relevance, credibility or authority on the part of the unlucky discipline. This is evident in the public health field in the way in which the social sciences are typically held to account for any deviation between the policy predictions of the "hard sciences" and what actually happens (see Race, 2012). For this reason I feel that we need to maintain attention on the procedures via which complexity is covered over, bracketed, externalized or disavowed by the hard sciences--the ways in which complexity gets siphoned off to the social and the "unscientific." The bucket may be grasped while rejecting the sense in which the label of "sociology" confines our insights to only one side of the modernist settlement. Informed by William Connolly's characterization of immanent naturalism, in this article I have argued that emergent causality cuts across--or mutually implicates--the realms of nature and culture, and that attending to the indeterminacy that is implicit in processes of eventuation is both critical and important for all health researchers. What might we become in refusing these bifurcating gestures of public health policy? Perhaps we are becoming materiologists: Investigators of how things come to matter, or, that is, how specific realities materialize.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: For additional information about this article e-mail:


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(1.) I refer to the strand of anti-juridical philosophy that situates all being on a plane of immanence and is characterized by its rejection of appeals to transcendence and teleology as an unquestioned basis for ethical action. Key thinkers in this tradition include Spinoza, Nietzsche, Foucault, Deleuze, Latour and Gatens among others.

(2.) I explain what this approach entails in more detail in the discussion that follows, but briefly, the term topology specifies a relational understanding of the construction and permutation of space, time, objects and events (see Lury et al., 2012).

(3.) On insider ethnographies in drug research see Measham and Moore (2006). For a more detailed discussion of my methodological formation and orientation see Race (2009, 2014). On "interesting science" and the need for researchers to put their research categories at risk, see Latour (2004). For a more detailed historical discussion of gay party culture in Sydney see Race (2011). Periodic surveys of sex and drug practices among gay men conducted annually in most Australian cities since 2000 form an important source of information. See for an indicative list. On the history of gay sexual sociability in Australia and its connection to health and politics. I have been particularly informed by the following sources: Faro (2000), Marsh and Galbraith (1995). Wotherspoon (1991), Dowsett (1996), Altman (1994) and the essays collected in Johnston and Van Reyk (2001).

(4.) I conducted the Sydney interviews myself; Melbourne interviews were conducted by Dr Dion Kagan, employed as a research assistant on the project. Among the qualitative data, the present analysis draws only on the Sydney interviews (n = 20). The qualitative components of the project were submitted for institutional ethics review and approved by the University of Sydney Human Research Ethics Committee (Approval #14718).

(5.) Accounts of these practices are derived from media reporting, direct observation, and the specialized literature discussed in this article. Recent deployments of materialization as a critical concept in drug research include Rosengarten (2009), Race (2009), Fraser and Moore (2011), Michael and Rosengarten (2013).

(6.) This analytic approach derives from conceptual engagements that I set out and elaborate in the body of the article. Key sources include Whitehead (1978), Latour (1999, 2004) and Foucault's later work on problematization (for a discussion of the latter see Race, 2009).

(7.) Police Powers (Drug Detection Dogs) Bill. Second Reading, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament, 6 December 2001. Hansard & Papers.

(8.) NSW Parliamentary Debates, 6 December 2001, p. 19745.

(9.) Statement made by the manager of the dog squad, Surry Hills Local Command, at the Sydney Mardi Gras Policing Community Forum, March 2013. Referenced also in Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby et al. (2013).

(10.) Maher and Dixon argue "Drug policing has to be located in a long history of public order policing ... street-level practices are determined by this mandate and its history as much as by policing strategies directed at the drug market" (Maher & Dixon, 1999, p. 491).

(11.), retrieved September 30, 2013.

(12.) These increases in homophobic violence may be specific to Sydney's social geography given Oxford Street's historical coding as a center of gay community. Quilley (1997) observed a similar link between the expansion of Manchester's nighttime economy and increases in homophobic violence in the gay village precinct in the 1990s.

(13.) Whitehead (1978) uses the phrase "the fallacy of misplaced concreteness" to caution against the tendency to take the abstractions of scientific practice as universally applicable.

(14.) The community rally led to a community forum that channelled popular anger into advocacy formats. Key criticisms are summarized in the interagency report that documented this discussion. Police use of drug-detection dogs features prominently (Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby et al., 2013).

(15.) These figures are cross-sectional, taken from a convenience sample produced at gay community venues and events, and thus should be read as indicative only. Data from 2009-2013 is not included here due to changes in the wording of the question from 2009 onwards (from "looked for sexual partners" to "found sexual partners") which produce disparities in the figures. A significant decrease is also recorded for dance parties, nightclubs and bars over this later period.

(16.) See Endnote 15 above. My ethnographic work suggests that figures on rates of use of methamphetamine and GHB are likely to be an underestimate since users of these drugs are increasingly likely to avoid the community events and venues from which these convenience samples are assembled.

(17.) At one point in 2004-2005, crystal meth was being attributed such wide-ranging causal power in gay community discourse that a running joke emerged in certain circles that "crystal caused the tsunami."
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Title Annotation:Australia
Author:Race, Kane
Publication:Contemporary Drug Problems
Date:Sep 22, 2014
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