The biopolitics of needle exchange in the United States

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Needle exchange began in the United States as a fragmented and illegal practice initiated by actors at the grassroots level; since the late 1980s, needle exchange has achieved increasing yet variable levels of institutional support across the country, receiving official sanction and funding from state and municipal governments. In turn, the practice(s) and discourse(s) of needle exchange have shifted significantly in many locales, becoming the purview of professional administration that advocates needle exchange as a necessary public health measure. This article is interested in the ways in which needle exchange has become implicated in and appropriated by networks of power seeking to discipline and regulate injection drug use. Drawing theoretically on Michel Foucault's writings concerning biopower and governmentality, it will examine the proliferation of discourses, knowledges, and rules surrounding needle exchange in the United States. At the same time, this article will avoid a characterization of needle exchange that envisions the unilateral control of drug users by governmental power, illuminating instead both its negative and productive effects for drug users. Namely, it will explore how needle exchange creates both subjects of interest and subjects of resistance among drug users - that is to say, the governmentalization of needle exchange and its 'clients'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalCritical Public Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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