Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research

Tobias Kammersgaard

Being ‘in place’, being ‘out of place’: Problematising marginalised drug users in two cities

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Background: Socially marginalised drug users when congregating in the public space on so-called ‘open drug scenes’ are often problematised, especially in post-industrial cities which increasingly are engaged in attempts to attract those that are considered to be promoters of economic activity through processes of ‘beautification’ and ‘gentrification’. The different punitive practices that target homeless and marginalised drug users in the public space have been rendered visible in a range of influential accounts since the 1990s. However, these accounts have mostly been based on the US context and it has been argued that, in a European context, responses from local governments have been more variegated and ambivalent. Methods: Two case studies of the response to homeless and marginalised drug users in public space were investigated in the two major cities of Denmark, Aarhus and Copenhagen. In order to account for the differences in responses to marginalised drug users between the two cases, the different problematisations of their presence were investigated through document analysis and interviews with key stakeholders. Results: The marginalised drug users were seen as ‘out of place’ in the open drug scene in Aarhus, while the marginalised drug users in the open drug scene in Copenhagen repeatedly were discursively constructed as being ‘in place’ and having a historical ‘right’ to be in this particular neighbourhood. Conclusion: The study illustrates that, by using the concept of ‘problematisation’, it is possible to reveal the assumptions about the proper use of the public space that underlies responses to the presence of marginalised drug users. Comparisons of such problematisations render us able to see how similar issues of marginalised drug users and the use of the public space can be problematised differently in different urban spaces and how this can legitimise specific governmental responses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102589
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

    Research areas

  • Marginalised drug users, Open drug scenes, Problematisations, Public space

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