The symbolic crusade of policing drugs. On the legitimacy to criminalize drugs and the self-legitimacy of ‘drug detectives’.

Research period

1 February 2019- 1 February 2021


Research Foundation- Flanders (FWO)



Key words

Legitimacy of criminalizing drugs, self-legitimacy ‘drug detectives’, discourse-analysis, drug policy, policing drugs


The issue of what objective reasons there are to justify the criminalization of a certain conduct is a challenging philosophical and criminological question. It is a question that relates to the core of the state because it deals with the limits of state intervention on individual autonomy. Criminalization is seen as a process whereby the government makes certain human conduct censure-worthy and turns some groups or individuals into ‘criminals’. We review the possible legitimation grounds for criminalizing drugs. Furthermore we want to find out if drug detectives are in need of moral justifications to legitimize their power and their profession. Insights on the self-legitimacy of ‘junior power holders’, such as drug detectives, remains underexposed. Which assumptions and beliefs about drugs and the drugs world are present in the mind of drug detectives, and which of these are constitutive for self-legitimacy? Discourse analysis enables us to investigate the connection between the criminalization of drugs on the macro-level and the micro-level of self-legitimacy. The self-legitimacy of drug detectives is an important societal issue because these police officers are the street level guardians of the prohibition discourse on drugs.


1. Literature review (legal philosophy and the mapping of drug discourses).

2. Foucault-inspired ethnographic fieldwork.

3. Epistemic interviewing.