Let People Be People: Everyday Substance Use in a Public Work Site

Laura A. Orrico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article complicates the prevailing portrait of substance use as being incompatible with work. Drawing on in-depth ethnographic data of one informal economic zone collected over a four-year period between January 2010 and January 2014, I expose the daily interactions through which substance use becomes compatible with work and the mechanisms by which drug and alcohol use become embedded in the local ecology of a public work site. To capture the ways in which people link their substance use to their experience of work, I utilize three concepts—taking a break, maintaining a cycle, and tipping the balance—each of which is suggestive of different patterned relationships between substance use and work in public. Data indicate that people link their substance use to their work in different ways and with different consequences and that each of these patterned relationships becomes an interrelated part of a single social system. These findings add necessary nuance and complexity to substance use literature, which is more frequently focused on abject abuse and disorder, and provide a more complete understanding of the ways in which substance use practices become linked to urban economies. Furthermore, they illuminate how participation in informal economic activity can play a variety of roles in the lives of people engaged in substance use practices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-330
Number of pages20
JournalQualitative Sociology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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