Activities of the Finnish Association for Humane Drug Policy as knowledge-practice; video campaign, translating the Global Drug Survey and attending the Nordic Reform Conference

In this post, I will describe three different modalities that the activist organization I´m part of has done to impact the political situation and discussion in Finland about drug policies; 1) a national video campaign 2) translating the Global Drug Survey and 3) attending the Nordic Reform Conference.  I will look at these modalities as forms of “knowledge-practices” (Casas-Cortés et al 2008). Before introducing these modalities, I will describe in more detail the organization I´m part of, the concept of knowledge-practices and my own methodological position. I follow some of the arguments made by Casas-Cortés et al (2008) and argue that a lot of the knowledge-practices that are visible for social movement analysis are the end result of often intense negotiation inside activist groups, and without an ethnographic position in a form of (online) participation observation, many of these knowledge-practices can be analysed only superficially.

The work of Finnish Association for Humane Drug as knowledge-practice

Finnish Association for Humane Drug Policy or Humaania Päihdepolitiikaa Ry (HPP Ry) was officially founded in 2001 by a group of activists after earlier online discussions about the topic (http://hppry.fi/yhdistys/historia/). During its over 15 years of existence HPP has been involved in various activities and collaborated with different organizations both nationally and internationally. Personally, I became familiar with the organization around the time I started my PhD (2014). After getting to know some of the activists involved and learning about what they do, I joined the organization and have been an active board member since 2016.

The main goal of the organization is to reform drug policy from a criminal issue to evidence-based health and social issue, working mostly on a national level but in support and collaboration with a wider global drug policy reform movement. This work involves for instance joining the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of drug policy NGO´s in 2016, an active national social media presence and commentary on mainstream media publications on the topic of drugs and drug policy, and organizing events and discussion panels, among other things.

All of these above activities can be viewed as what Casas-Cortés et al (2008) call ´knowledge-practices´. According to Casas-Cortés et al (2008, p.21) social movements should not be seen as mere objects for analysis but “lively actors producing their own explanations and knowledges.”  The go on to say that “These knowledges take the form of stories, ideas, narratives, and ideologies, but also theories, expertise, as well as political analyses and critical understandings of particular contexts. Their creation, modification and diverse enactments are what we call ´ knowledge-practice´.” (ibid.). Using the concept of ´knowledge-practice´ put forward by Casas-Cortés et al, allows researchers to look at knowledge and its very “concrete, embodied, lived, and situated character” (Casas-Cortés et al 2008, p. 20) produced inside activist associations and social movements.

By describing the three modalities mentioned above, I attempt to showcase and analyse some the activities of the HPP organization as forms of knowledge-practices. I also argue that there is a constant production of knowledge-practices inside activist groups/social movements which remains mostly hidden from outsiders. For instance, what kinds of mainstream media articles are worth commenting on as an organization is a matter of constant negotiation between actors inside an activist group. So, the production of knowledge-practices is not necessarily always “smooth” as differentiating opinions emerge which demand compromise, but usually the output that is meant for a public audience seems that it was given as a unitary voice, while in fact it might have been the end result of a long critical discussion. I will not describe in detail the road to the three modalities described but instead use the them as empirical samples of “knowledge-practices”.

Due to geo-graphical distance, but thanks to modern information technologies, my own participation in these modalities has been done mostly through online discussions, meetings and reading of online material. Methodologically I situate myself as an online ethnographer or netnographer, a term coined by Robert Kozinets (2010). Netnography combines traditional ways of doing participant observation in online contexts (Kozinets 2010). In general, the digital world has remained a fairly uncharted territory where social scientists have not yet fully entered (Coleman 2010 p. 488; Kozinets 2010 p. 2; Murthy 2008 p. 838) despite that “[T]he potentialities of new and ever more embedded technologies are immense.” (Murthy 2008 p. 484). Some authors have even argued that to fully understand contemporary life, ethnographers are obliged to include at least a part of cyberspace in their definition of a field site (Beaulieu 2004 p.159; Carcia et al 2009 p. 57). This is argued to be case in all the modalities described and analysed below as the knowledge created, reformulated, and diffused (Casa-Cortés et al 2008:20) was mostly mediated online.

  1. Video campaign: ”Kieltolakiin perustuva huumepolitiikka tiensä päässä”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vajEWcJlwEY&t=6s

First example of knowledge-practices inside HPP Ry is a video-campaign featuring various expert interviews. The link above is the first published video which features Helsinki University Professor of World Politics Teivo Teivainen. During the interview Prof. Teivainen says that drug policy based on prohibition has come to the end of its road which also features as the title of the video. The video is a bit over a minute long which reflects the fast-paced visual information distribution which is quite common nowadays in videos that are meant for social media distribution. The video campaign in itself is argued to be a site of  “knowledge creation, reformulation, and diffusion” (Casa-Cortés et al 2008, p.20) and this particular video has, since its publication in May 2017, gained 175 views, an amount that will most likely increase as the campaign continues.

The video campaign was initiated by a professional photographer who wanted support the work HPP is doing. Initial meetings around the campaign were about discussing the potential people to interview, and what kind of general questions should be asked during the interview. Four experts agreed to be part; in addition to Professor Teivainen, these experts worked in the fields of politics (a member of parliament), substance abuse services (CEO of a NGO), and criminal justice (senior officer at the Justice Department). This representation of various fields of expertise in the interviews, whom all nonetheless voiced articulated criticism of the current drug policy situation in Finland and called for at least political debate around the issue to start, can be seen as creating and reformulating new knowledge which aims to become part of the public discourse. The publication of the video via social media diffuses it to a wider audience and again potentially creates new knowledge.

The original interviews lasted from around 30 minutes to an hour, and one of the latest video collages which features comments from all the experts together with statistical graphs emphasizing some of the comments, lasts around 4-5 minutes. This showcases that the knowledge-practice inside an activist organization requires almost constant decision-making on what is deemed as important and what is not important enough to be included in the final “product” or knowledge-practice. Sometimes, especially in this particular kind of audio-visual knowledge production, these decisions had to be made based on fairly technical grounds (the quality of the sound in the video or the image are not satisfactory) but often the decision is based what kind of knowledge the organization wants to convey with the practice. In other words, the end result that reaches the public includes knowledge-practice in its own right which often remains hidden from a wider audience.

Below is the video that was published on December 3rd, 2017 by HPP. It has reached over 600 views on Youtube and over 100 shares on Facebook.

The video was also picked up by more mainstream Finnish Media representing both ends of the political spectrum: https://www.verkkouutiset.fi/sdpn-kansanedustaja-huumeiden-kayttajan-kohtelu-rikollisena-estaa-avun-saamista/ & https://demokraatti.fi/huumepolitiikasta-pelataan-keskustella-sd-kansanedustaja-huumeiden-kaytosta-rankaiseminen-estaa-ihmisia-saamasta-tarvitsemaansa-apua/

2. Global Drug Survey

Second example of knowledge-practice is the Finnish translation of the Global Drug Survey (GDS) https://surveys.globaldrugsurvey.com/s3/GDS2018 . GDS is independent research company based in London, and founded by psychiatrist and addiction specialist Dr. Adam Winstock. I had been part of promoting the survey in various Finnish drug-related social media groups in 2016 after I met the founder of the GDS, Dr. Winstock in Amsterdam and interviewed him for a non-peer reviewed publication (Hupli 2017), a knowledge-practice in its own right. The previous Survey in English  had received around 400 Finnish participants. The goal of the translation is to increase the amount of participants, as well as improve to validity of the findings by giving the respondents the chance to answer in their native language. This has succeeded as over a week ago I was updated that the Survey had received over 650 Finnish responders.

I negotiated (online) with various organizations on funding the translation of the survey into Finnish and eventually Muunto-project, which works under the A-clinic Foundation and tries to get drug-checking services off the ground in Finland ( http://muuntohanke.fi/), managed to get permission to use some of their funding to pay for the translation in exchange of accessing part of the data gathered. The translation was done by a board member of the HPP. The translation itself is an example of knowledge-practice as it in many cases required innovative use of language that would keep the original meaning of the survey question, but also be “natural” enough for native Finnish speakers.

Part of in-direct knowledge-practices was mainstream media articles about the Survey and the researchers involved as they were invited as key note speakers at the 4th Contemporary Drug Problem conference in Helsinki this August: https://www.hs.fi/kotimaa/art-2000005349114.html. As a conference volunteer I filmed and edited the key note from the GDS researchers https://youtu.be/X3qYzsSNokY in which they among other things self-reflect how the findings of the survey are picked up by different mainstream medias. This again acts as an example of knowledge creation and diffusion which gets tangled in a network of practices, which are potentially adding to the impact of the original Finnish translation by shining media attention to it. The actual results of this particular knowledge-practice remain to be seen as the deadline for participation extends until the end of the year 2017 and the potential findings will take time to be published. Again, it is the end results in the form of scientific publications and media reporting about them that will be high-lighted, not the various situations of negotiations behind the scenes that made them possible in the first place.

3. Attending a high-level drug policy conference

What counts as part of this knowledge-practice, although perhaps not explicitly aimed as such originally, is that few of our active members, myself included, travelled to Oslo on the 23rd and 24th of November to take part on the Nordic Reform Conference, organized by the Norwegian Association for Safer Drug Policies (https://www.nordicreform.com/). The conference brought together researchers, activists and politicians and at the end of the conference one of the main spoke persons of the Association summed the conference up saying that she hopes “everyone took the opportunity to get to know each other, build networks and help us build a strong and powerful reform movement in the Nordic countries.” (https://youtu.be/QK7gGBVFNg8 from about 5:27.00).  Discussions before, during and after the conference most likely did just that, and sharing knowledge and experiences across the different actors involved in drug policy reform, in- and outside of the Nordic countries, is yet another example of knowledge-practices of which from an outsider perspective is viewable only a small part. Nonetheless, not long after the conference, news about the Norwegian parliament voting to decriminalize drug use broke in various medias across the globe, showcasing that drug policy reform is not only desirable, but also possible.  http://www.newsweek.com/norway-wants-decriminalize-drugs-748356

Discussion

I´ve argued that using the concept of ´knowlegde-practice´ put forward by Casas-Cortés et al (2008) is a useful way to analyse some of the activities a drug policy activist group in Finland has done. Being situated as an active member of the group, and as the use of modern information technologies has become a vital component of how these activities are organized, I was able to analyse the three modalities from an insider perspective. I have argued that that kind of positionality is important for a more in-depth understanding of social movements and the knowledge-practices they produce (see also Casas-Cortés et al 2008) as often the end-results that reach more public audiences have included negotiations, decision-making and critical discussion inside these groups.

References:

Beaulieu, A. (2004) Mediating Ethnography: Objectivity and the Making of Ethnographies of the Internet. Social Epistemology, 18,/2–3, 139–163

Garcia, A. C., Standlee, A. I., Bechkoff, J., and F. Van Cui  (2009) Ethnographic Approaches to the Internet and Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography,38:1, 52—84.

Casas-Cortés, María Isabel Osterweil, Michal & Dana E. Powell (2008) Blurring Boundaries: Recognizing Knowledge-Practices in the Study of Social Movements Anthropological Quarterly, 81/1, 17-58

Coleman, E. G. (2010). Ethnographic approaches to digital media. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39, 487–505.

Hupli, A. (2017) Adam Winstock: ”Rehellisyys on parasta päihdepolitiikkaa”. A-Klinikkasäätiön Tiimi-lehti 3/2017

Kozinets, Robert (2010) Netnography. Doing Ethnographic Research Online. Sage Publications

Murthy, D. (2008) Digital Ethnography: An Examination of the Use of New Technologies for Social Research, Sociology, 42/5, 837–855


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