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Politics of Prevention: The Emergence of Prevention Science
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRAD).
2015 (English)In: International journal on drug policy, ISSN 0955-3959, E-ISSN 1873-4758, Vol. 26, no 8, 746-754 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]


This article critically examines the political dimension of prevention science by asking how it constructs the problems for which prevention is seen as the solution and how it enables the monitoring and control of these problems. It also seeks to examine how prevention science has established a sphere for legitimate political deliberation and which kinds of statements are accepted as legitimate within this sphere.


The material consists of 14 publications describing and discussing the goals, concepts, promises and problems of prevention science. The analysis covers the period from 1993 to 2012.


The analysis shows that prevention science has established a narrow definition of “prevention”, including only interventions aimed at the reduction of risks for clinical disorders. In publications from the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse, the principles of prevention science have enabled a commitment to a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. The drug using subject has been constructed as a rational choice actor lacking in skills in exerting self-control in regard to drug use. Prevention science has also enabled the monitoring and control of expertise, risk groups and individuals through specific forms of data gathering. Through the juxtaposition of the concepts of “objectivity” and “morality”, prevention science has constituted a principle of delineation, disqualifying statements not adhering to the principles of prevention science from the political field, rendering ethical and conflictual dimensions of problem representations invisible.


The valorisation of scientific accounts of drugs has acted to naturalise specific political ideals. It simultaneously marginalises the public from the public policy process, giving precedence to experts who are able to provide information that policy-makers are demanding. Alternative accounts, such as those based on marginalisation, poverty or discrimination are silenced within prevention science.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 26, no 8, 746-754 p.
Keyword [en]
Prevention science, Politics, Governmentality, Ideology
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-120276DOI: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2015.03.011OAI: diva2:851371
Available from: 2015-09-04 Created: 2015-09-04 Last updated: 2016-06-14Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Ideological Closure: Drug Prevention in a Post-political Society
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Ideological Closure: Drug Prevention in a Post-political Society
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The aim of this thesis is to critically examine drug prevention as a field of problematizations  – how drug prevention becomes established as a political technology within this field, how it connects to certain modes of governance, how and under which conditions it constitutes it’s problematic, the questions it asks,  it´s implications in terms of political participation and representation, the various bodies of knowledge through which it constitutes the reality upon which it acts, the limits it places on ways of being, questioning, and talking  in the world.

The main analyses have been conducted in four separate but interrelated articles. Each article addresses a specific dimension of drug prevention in order to get a grasp of how this field is organized. Article 1 examines the shift that has occurred in the Swedish context during the period 1981–2011 in how drugs have been problematized, what knowledge has grounded the specific modes of problematization and which modes of governance this has enabled. In article 2, the currently dominant scientific discipline in the field of drug prevention – prevention science – is critically examined in terms of how it constructs the “drug problem” and the underlying assumptions it carries in regard to reality and political governance. Article 3 addresses the issue of communities’ democratic participation in drug prevention efforts by analyzing the theoretical foundations of the Communities That Care prevention program. The article seeks to uncover how notions of community empowerment and democratic participation are constructed, and how the “community” is established as a political entity in the program. The fourth and final article critically examines the Swedish Social and Emotional Training (SET) program and the political implications of the relationship the program establishes between the subject and emotions.

The argument is made that, within the field of drug prevention, questions of political values and priorities in a problematic way are decoupled from the political field and pose a significant problem in terms of the possibilities to engage in democratic deliberation. Within this field of problematizations it becomes impossible to mobilize a politics against social injustice, poverty and inequality. At the same time, the scientific grounding of this mode of governing the drug “problem” acts to naturalize a specific – highly political – way of engaging with drugs.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, 2016. 55 p.
Stockholm studies in sociology, ISSN 0491-0885 ; 63
Drug prevention, politics, knowledge, ideology
National Category
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-131156 (URN)978-91-7649-446-2 (ISBN)
Public defence
2016-09-09, hörsal 2, hus A, Universitetsvägen 10 A, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2016-08-17 Created: 2016-06-14 Last updated: 2016-09-01Bibliographically approved

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Roumeliotis, Filip
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