Date of Degree

2-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

Bryan S. Turner

Committee Members

Mary Clare Lennon

John C. Torpey

Subject Categories

Civic and Community Engagement | Medicine and Health | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity | Regional Sociology | Sociology | Sociology of Culture

Keywords

opioids, grief, opioid crisis, New England, drugs and society

Abstract

“Grief, Care and Politics in the American Opioid Crisis” examines grief in the American opioid crisis through a case study of New England. The research investigates how the opioid crisis affects social and political life, particularly on the social experience of grief. The mixed-method approach includes interviews (N=60), participant observation of grief groups and advocacy meetings, visits to relevant facilities and public gatherings (N=30), and analysis of relevant documents and reports. I find that in response to healthcare shortages and inconsistencies groups primarily composed of women and mothers emerge to fill the void and form what I call “communities of care.” These communities, in turn, become politicized as frustrations crest and overdose deaths mount. At the intersection of political sociology and the sociology of death and dying, the research shows how the death of a loved one can be a political catalyst with far reaching implications. Political theorists highlight grief as a powerful political tool, though grief and politics on a community level is less understood. Through the case study, I show how this unfolds and how, what I term, “the politics of blame” are negotiated with implications for medicalization, criminalization and militarization often along race, class, and national lines. Although the case study of the American opioid crisis focuses on New England, it is situated in a broader perspective, stressing connections to the War on Drugs and the Mexican Drug War.

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