Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Urban Education


Kenneth G. Tobin

Subject Categories

Education | English Language and Literature | Philosophy


addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), autobiography, narrative


This dissertation is an attempt to connect the personal with the socio-historical--addiction with Addiction, respectively. It is also an attempt to demonstrate that knowledge production can be generated through radically non-traditional means.

What follows is an interpretive, impressionistic, exploratory narrative about addiction in/and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is also a narrative about Narrative. I 'tell' a semi-fictional auto/bio/graphical tale of one 'open' AA meeting in order to disclose what it's like to be an addict and a newcomer in AA. In the 'notes' sections after all but one of the chapters the sober researcher takes over. These 'made-up' aspects of the narrative--the multi-tracked narrator's voice, shifts in point-of-view, playing with time, and the semi and sometimes totally imagined "characters" I encounter at the meeting and elsewhere--are all part of the fiction I've made of my personal history as an addict and newcomer in AA. This complicates the relation between knower and known while enriching and enlivening the narrative, which is the rationale of the methodology: to draw the reader in. Full disclosure: While I've never been an AA member, I've attended at least twenty meetings in earnest in attempts to (re)mediate a serious addiction to prescription painkillers.

The standards of my impressionistic auto/bio/graphical tale are literary, not disciplinary. Like the novel, autobiographical writing allows for the psychological and the phenomenological, i.e., for description alongside glimpses into the processes of consciousness, the author/researcher taking the part of the student, and the narrative as a whole leaving the impression of something having been learned. The idea that AA is a formal institution of education in its own right was the birth of the meeting narrator's skeptical pupillary voice.

The study's design is emergent and contingent as the framework and methodology changed radically during its several iterations. I came to rely on already existing data including: (1) audio files of an AA circuit speaker downloaded from the Internet, (2) autobiography, biography, fiction, poetry, and films on drugs and alcohol and on addiction/alcoholism (simply 'addiction' for this study), (3) current academic literature on addiction and AA (and AA's own literature), and (4) autobiographical memory of the lived experience of addiction and of being a newcomer in AA. In the 'notes' sections some of the history, literature, and philosophy of AA and of addiction are related, e.g., both addiction's socio-historical construction and its literary deconstruction. Two impressionistic bio/graphical tales--of Bill Wilson, cofounder of AA, and of Bob D., an AA circuit speaker--are used to disclose other lived experiences of addiction and of AA besides my own, to explore the notion that we are also not the stories we tell others and ourselves about ourselves, and to reveal Bob D's 'primary purpose' ethics as a productive analog toward understanding the ethics of alterity (otherness). In a third person autobiographical epilogue, AA's philosophy of spiritual transformation is pitted against the hegemonic bioscientifc logic of total medicalization.

I make no claims for generalizability except at the level of theory and methodology, i.e., the storied nature of reflected upon lived experience, or an interpretive narrative phenomenology; and of the role of institutions like AA in grafting onto lived experience new narrative structures, or, new ways of guarding time; and in so doing, helping members to structure and maintain, through time, sober bodies and positively valenced notions of self and identity that emerge and are recursively disclosed in AA's unique form of narrativity.