Narrative identity constructions of people who use illegal drugs

Research Period

1 August 2017 – 31 December 2019


Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)


Michelle VAN IMPE

Key words

People who use drugs, identity constructions, narratives


Drugs have been part of society for a long time while the social, political and cultural perceptions and meanings have changed throughout history. While the possession, production and trade of illegal drugs has been labeled as a crime by several international treaties and national jurisdictions in the 19th century, this sense drug policy is currently debated and several countries experiment with alternative regulating models, espcecially in the case of cannabis.

Aside from changing perceptions on macro and meso level, individual drug users also ascribe meanings to substances and the place of drugs in their identity and life. The attribution of meaning on personal, social and policy level are connected and constitute a sociopolitical context wherein identities of people who use drugs are constructed, on the one hand by users themselves and on the other hand by dominant drug policy discourses at a certain place and time period.

This research aims to study these complex contexts in depth from a narrative and an emic perspective. It wishes to understand the intersection between personal and political processes of identity construction. To this end, we depart from a critical criminological framework from which ‘policy’ is viewed as an ideological construction and wherein users are acknowledged in their possibilities of resistance, empowerment and agency.


  1. Review of the (inter)national literature
  2. Participatory action research (PAR)



  • VAN IMPE, M. (2018). Identity constructions of people who use illicit drugs: beyond boundaries and conventionality?. Presented at the Common Session in Critical Criminology.