Heith Copes: Haddin Lecture on “Social Identity and Boundary Maintenance Among Drug Users”

Heith Copes: Haddin Lecture on “Social Identity and Boundary Maintenance Among Drug Users”


Good morning. It is still two minutes away from. being good afternoon I hope you all have a good day. I am very pleased to introduce to you my colleague and friend Heith Copes. Heith… his research interests are on the cutting-edge if you would in the sense that he is very interested and much of his work revolves around understanding how offenders perceive themselves. Much of his work revolves around the notion that we all have various identities, and those
identities are projected to others, and help define to ourselves to the other. Much of Heith’s work has revolved
around how criminal offenders project various identities and use those identities as a way of helping to understand who they are to themselves as well as who they are to others. Heith’s work has looked at carjackers. It has looked at crack users. One of his interesting pieces was how crack users rent cars and use them to get around. They literally use, they barter drugs for cars. And more recently Heith and a former colleague of ours, who is now at the University of Texas at Dallas, Lynne Vieraitis, wrote a book about identity thieves, and much of their work focuses on how these people perceive themselves and similar kinds of issues. So Heith’s talk today is going to
continue in this line of work on how it is that offenders perceive
themselves and how others perceive them. Again, he’s focusing on drug users. And with that, I’ll turn it over to Heith. Thank you John. After that, I think he’s described everything I’ve
done, so I could leave now, right? I’m gonna have a modest goal for
today. Every time I go to events that have free
food, the food is usually not worth the pain of the talk, so my goal is to at least make
the food worth it today. Fortunately, we ordered good food today,
so I think I can accomplish that. And I know it’s a lecture, but that seems
so formal, so really we’re going to have a conversation with
some pretty pictures and I’ll just talk more than I normally would in a
conversation. So, as Dr. Sloan said, I’m Heith Copes.
I’m in the Department of Justice Sciences. My background is in sociology, so a lot of what I do really takes on a sociological influence, and today’s talk, even though I have a a kind of a
vague title, the vague title was because when I
had to give Rebecca the title, I was out of the country and I wasn’t sure
exactly what I wanted to do so I figured this was vague enough that I can wrap whatever I did decide to do into this
topic. But it’s a simple question that I’m
trying to answer here is “How do people make sense of their lives?
How do we create an identity that we project to others?
how do we create these in groups and out groups? How do we show that we belong to this in group?” That we’re authentic members and
that all the positive characteristics that have been assigned to that in group should be assigned us, and how we create
these out groups where we lump all the other people in there and they get classified with all the negative traits of
the outgroup. And that’s really the key of what I’m trying to do. Now, the majority of my work does focus on
offenders and drug users and violent people, but you shouldn’t take
this to mean that only people who violate social norms or who engage in potentially
stigmatizing behavior construct identity in this way. We all do
it. We do it every day. I would imagine at some point during
the talk, I will reveal parts of my
identity, or how I would want you to think I am. For example, I watch a lot of TV, and I think there’s a lot of really good shows
nowadays that really get at this idea of identity. I think Mad Men is brilliant. It really focuses on identity if you watch
the entire series, but it’s particularly good at looking at gender identity. Downton Abbey is great because it looks at social class and identity. But I also watch some trashy shows too. I like Big Brother and Survivor. and I think one reason I like it is because you
get to watch people interact live. especially Big Brother, if you watch the
feeds in the Big Brother After Dark, you can see people interact. You can see them construct identity right there. Most
recently on Big Brother, its airing now, two
groups formed opposing alliances and one group decided they were going to
try to recruit someone to their alliance and they did so by creating this
category of we’re the good people. Those are the bad
people. You wanna be with us. We’re moms. We’re
good people. Even though they’re all doing the same
thing. They’re are manipulating and lying, but they were still able to frame
themselves as good and the others as bad. So you make it clear that we all do this, but I think it’s easier
to see these things, this process of identity, when we look at people who do engage in
stigmatize behavior or people who are part of subcultures, because when you’re part of
a subculture, authenticity really matters. It’s really important. If anybody is
part of a subculture, people make these distinctions between
I’m real, it’s who I am, versus these others who
are posers and it’s just what they do. They’re
putting on a front, and so it’s real common to see this, and another way we can see this process is when we go to new groups. I don’t think I
ever feel more Southern than when I to go to another part of the
country, and ever feel more American than when I
go to another country. But when I’m here, I don’t really think
about being Southern or being American. But it’s when I’m in these new
situations and these new people are asking me things, that’s when it seems to kind of create
the need to create these distinctions. I was
recently in Norway and I found myself correcting
people like “No I’m not from Alabama. I’m from Louisiana.” Then I
realized that’s completely meaningless to them,
right? They don’t care. But here it does matter Yeah. And then when I realize that it was
just like “Yes, I’m from the United States.” and
that’s all they care about. so the study of identity is huge. It’s an enormous body of literature. It comes from different disciplines or
psychologists and sociologists. Pretty much any discipline talks about
identity, so if you’re familiar with identity and I
don’t talk about your particular strain, forgive me. The one that I am going to focus on, I guess I can zoom out, is on narrative identity. And narrative identity come from this narrative turn, as some people say, that’s
occurring in the social sciences where we focus more on storytelling, and so the idea is that we create
identities through stories, through storytelling, and I’m going the wrong way. and in this version, we create
identities at three levels. And we can create it at a macro level, and
these are cultural identities. We can create it at a meso-level, which
are institutional identities, and then in a micro-level, which is our
personal identities. and now it’s possible to study each one of these
separately, but really you get a better picture or understanding of who people are when
you can look at multiple levels. And you don’t always
have to look at the meso-level because sometimes we’re not a part of institutions.
So at the macro level, these are cultural
identities and if anybody, I know there are some people who have studied the
social construction of social problems there’s a lot of overlap here with these cultural narratives. In a cultural identity these
exist kind of out in the world, and they’re
these ideal categories of people. When we talk about it, it’s a way that we just
simplify the world. There’s too many types of
people out there so we just classify them in a group and we treat them like that group. So
examples are meth heads, teen moms, conservative Christians,
liberal professors. These are all types of people, and by talking about these, by hearing them, stories of these types of
people in the media and through conversation, we create what we call formula stories,
and these formula stories just, they circulate out in the wild. And I like this quote. Some people don’t like it because it’s kind of
repetitive, but I think that’s the point. So formula stories are narratives of typical actors engaging in typical behaviors, within
typical plots leading to expectable moral evaluations. It’s what we expect
of certain types of people. Right now I think we are in the midst
of the formula story of methamphetamine that is primarily driven by the Faces of Meth campaign. So when we think about a meth addict, I
would imagine all of us went to poor rural whites who have bad teeth, who are erratic, and often violent. That becomes our image. That’s what we think of meth users, but that’s
not how everyone sees meth users. People overseas, they don’t have this
image of the meth addict that we do. That’s
why i think its primarily driven by that Faces of Meth campaign. and I’m sure most of you have seen it, where they
show the transition of a young meth user, and then as they progressively get arrested, they show more mug shots and
you just see the deterioration, and their hair seems to be thinner. Their teeth fall out. They have open
sores, and that becomes a formula story of the meth user.and
that shapes how we think about meth users. On the show
“Breaking Bad”, I read a lot of forums about Breaking Bad
and such, and people criticize it because Jesse, one of
the main meth users, has good teeth, and they
don’t think this is believable. How could he have good teeth? There’s a
lot of meth users who have okay teeth but if we only rely on those formula
stories that can affect our expectations and assumptions of people.
Now these formula stories often center
around these opposing groups. It’s our in group and our out group so we get the
functional user versus a dysfunctional user. that’s pretty much what I’ll be talking
about today. The differences and how they create these distinctions
between a functional user who of course they claim they are versus
these other dysfunctional users, but also fits with the authentic versus
the inauthentic, so it’s just a way that we just put people in an other category and so by creating these cultural identities,
it allows us to associate with that in group which means we get to take on those
positive characteristics, and then allows us to put others in the
out group and then we get to attribute all the
negative things to them. Then at the middle level, the meso-level, is the organizational identities, and these are created by organizations whose
main goal is to help change people’s identities. This would be schools, halfway houses,
treatment centers, prisons. And these organizations typically create
their own formula stories. Now often they borrow from larger
cultural stories, but they often create their own and
these organizational formula stories about
their client or their patient or their student affect how organizational members
treat them. It effects whether or not they’re admitted. It effects
if they are released. It effects how you interact with them, so since most
of us teach college students we have an organizational identity of certain types
of students. I often hear people complain about the
apathetic college student, and when we assign that
label to someone, It really affects how we treat them. I can’t be the only one who gets an
email and just automatically puts that kid in the apathetic
category. And so that really, I think one good
distinction is in treatment centers. There’s a lot of treatment centers that
hold the medical model of addiction, and if that’s their formula story its
gonna carry expectations that what should clients do in order to get out, contrasted with a faith-based center who doesn’t see
addiction has a disease but sees it more as kind of, I
don’t know spiritual cleansing, and so they have a
different model and it affects how, it even affects how
the the participants talk about their treatment. If you talk to people who are
in these halfway houses that have, are faith-based, they talk
about treatment a lot differently. They will tell you that they’re saved
and that God is the reason they are healthy, whereas if you go to the other types and
treatment centers that usually don’t have that strong of an emphasis. Now
they might talk about higher power but it’s not the main
emphasis. But we’re not talking about that though. We’re
really talking about the micro-level, and these are the personal identity, and these are the stories we tell to kind of put ourselves with a certain type
of category, and so often what we do is we rely on
these formula stories to tell our own story. One example recently, we went to
the Lovelady Center and we’ve been interviewing a lot of meth users, but this summer
we decided let’s talk to black women who use cocaine but not meth, because again our assumption, our formula story of the meth user is they’re white, and ask these women “Why don’t you use meth?” If you’re willing
to use cocaine, why not meth? And it appears that a lot of them rely on these formula stories. I think
the main reason is they just don’t have access. The people who make meth don’t go to these communities, to black
communities, to sell. Because they’re not familiar with it,
they rely on the formula stories, so now their perception of a meth user is they’re erratic, they’re more prone
to violence, and they lose their teeth. They often talk
about they don’t want to use anything that
has drano in it, or these other poisons because it does bad
things to your body. Now clearly crack does bad things to your
body as well, but I think because they see people in
the community who can be functional crack users, that
they get a more nuanced picture of what crack users are like. They don’t see that those nuances with
meth users, so they have to rely back on the formula story of the meth addict,
and that helps them explain why they don’t do it. But we don’t blindly apply formula
stories. We adapt them to our situation. We alter them. We fit them. We
manipulate them so that we still attach to it, but we show that
we have complexity, and that’s one of the key differences.
The out group have no complexity. They lack agency.
They’re the people who, they’re simplistic. They fit the
formula story. But I’m different. I’m complex. I’m more than just this story, so we use those to kind of create our own identities. So based on this idea, the purpose of
this research was to look at how crack users create identities using this formula
story on the crack addict or the crackhead or the other names that they call
them. And so the goal is to, one, explore the
boundaries. How do they create, or what’s the nature
of the boundaries that they create between themselves and the crackhead, and how did these
boundaries, or the boundaries and the classification, guide the way they interact with people
they put in the out group? That’s the basic idea of what I’m
trying to do here. And I will eventually press the right buttons the first time. so now you can see where you memento have for the methods me the Boca my
research is qualitative and this project originally started as I
will I was simply an interview violent offenders are robbers and ask about their decision-making
process why did you decide to commit a robbery
and how you carry the robbery out to a pretty simple things I’m but I
began by trying to contextualize what is your life like Watson just a day
in the life of a robber and how that inform their decisions and one in the early ones I asked if
he’s use drugs and he said yes it said you
smoke crack he said yes and I said well you dictate he said yes and I said so you’re a crackhead was like hell no
no and it was an emphatic no and I thought okay that’s interesting
because in my formula store he up the crack addict if you’re addicted bureaucratic it have got was it there
was no distinctions made what for these guys that wasn’t the case
and in the strength up his opposition to
that claim may be really think okay this is
important to them this is important to people like him and so then I started to follow up more
I just with him but with others for the rest of the interview which is
but i think is gonna the good things about qualitative
methods that you can adapt as you go along and and so that really is what led to
this project those 28 violent offenders they were
semi-structured interviews I’m I use an inductive analysis which essentially means I didn’t go in there
with the theory in place and then see if that the refit religious listen to what they said tried to figure out what they were
saying it’s okay to use the data to develop the theory rather than putting the
theory on top a bit I and then what I find is that the classified themselves as hustlers and so what are the things
as one week we tell people who we are we often tell them who we are not and for this group they were not crack
it they were hustlers I didn’t this brings
a different connotation that fall along these five boundaries and the first one is the idea being clean they portrayed crackheads as dirty and every
sense of the word they were more leader you they were
physically dirty how they carry diseases they didn’t keep
themselves up I’m so what what I have here just leave
me is a brief description of what I think the
concept means then I put some quotes from the participants I’m not going to read the quotes because hi up to give them accents and I don’t
wanna do them film um soho I they all sound like they’re
from south Louisiana this where did the interviews but how
can adjust talk a little bit about a man I’ll even
up there so is this one offender talk about they
just look back they’re all strung out I they don’t keep up with themselves ’em they describe them here’s a a depiction have the physical
characteristics is that their lips turn white and they
start shaking because they’re always trying to get the
drug and to them that’s at the bottom so as long as you can use crack but still maintain a certain amount of
cleanliness then you can distance yourself from a
crackhead I now they wouldn’t even they try to avoid interactions and I’ll
get to that more but especially sexual interactions you know
really wanna sleep with a crack at I don’t know why 22.2 I should be obvious um the next theme is is having things a lot of street offenders live in a
world that that reeling values a certain style in a certain look and if you can have
those symbolic displays then you can show that your a certain type a person that you’re a
hustler and not a crack in and so one of the things that they
pointed out for welfare the first one is he never considered himself a jockey
until he went to prison right to now he gets it this shift and his a identity because when he was
on the street he had things ID he didn’t have to do on these demeaning axe he had money for
drugs is OK %uh no the per tree the the crackhead is more desperate and you one of them i assed he he Rob a crack it a rip them off and
I said you can fear retaliation cause retaliation is
big amongst this group people he said no he’s a crack in and I said well what if
he had a gun and he said he’s a crackhead if he ever
had a gun he would have sold it back now so that becomes that even if they ever
did have things that they were able to acquire something they’ve sold it upon that are traded by
now the paper that this is based on this
title we weren’t like no regular doping because they had money a dope fiend
crackhead they didn’t have these things cock they also like to portray themselves can
have in this cool detached calm demeanor and so that they’re
confronted her they put into a risky situation they kinda overcome it they can they can face it with some
degree have have character whereas crackheads you really can’t describe it crack it is
cool because according to them they’re always
paranoid their Radic they’re sketchy is there’s
just something not right about him so because in clockers there wasn’t just
him this is kind of a common term I because they’re always bobbing their
heads like their chickens right and then literally nothing cool
about like expect um and and so the idea that they’re they’re
scared is because they can’t face the same situation
someone confronted them they would back down because they’re
they’re terrify where’s hoffler would face it head on they’re not going
to back down are there also criminally able and they believe that
they possessed um a larceny sense kind of an old term really just means that some people have
the ability to recognize criminal opportunities better than the rest of us how they can
see who mark is they can see who police are they can see when there’s money to
be made whereas crack and did not have this
ability they were left just doing petty crimes just scrounging stealing scrap metal so very much
anytime you hear love someone stealing copper are metal
those are the crack according to these think these guys I how and then they do some things that other Harbor its for money I’m for the first one I
thought this was interesting cuz in his example the petty crime was a
goal is still on more someone stole my lawn mower it was a
push mower not even adjustable it had to be a
crackhead right who else is good who else would still is could you
couldn’t get five bucks for I don’t crack and are not cry they also
portrayed themselves as having heart this kind of gets back to the idea that
they have courage will stand up for themselves I Haas lose
will use violence when disrespected whereas crackheads want I’m because as they say there’s something about the
drug does something to him he it kinda takes their heart away it takes
their courage way and they don’t want any trouble their
clockers you can be done anytime you want you can
hate and that he hates them because in this because they don’t stand
up for themselves the camp weak-willed is not valued amongst this group hope that was all five of my life thought a
went quicker than I thought so in the first part they use language they tell stories and that helped create
these boundaries between themselves and crack
it what it’s more than just language it they also reinforce these boundaries
or maintain these boundaries by how they treat people they put into the crackhead category so
when they interact with crack heads they do so and and specific ways one the Tivoli
just try to avoid them but if this is your life style where you
are smoking crack in your dealing crack Canyon you’re going to run into these people so
you keep your actions to a minimum you know I’m relationships
with them you might sell dope or by DOE perm has doctor hall’s at rent a car from but you know really wanna interactive you’re
not friends with them right because and that can have takes
you that a putsch kinda make other people maybe think
they’d you’re in that category as well home a lot of their interactions are based on humiliating and demeaning a crackhead
they told a lot of horrible stories about how they treat crack it hmm some of them are just so bad that I figured these capture how bad it is without really having to
go into the really horrible things they do to him arm one just a mess with them cuz they could
they would get them to a crackhead the put his hand and an
empire has her tight you know did I know they have a man Alabama
certainly have a peaceful who he’s here and so they’re willing to do this just
for a littles rock I this one guy just decided he was gonna hit him with the
tire just no reason other than just pretty much to make the
guys he was hanging out with left have one other stories /a convinced the
crackhead to go and steal something from the back of a truck and then when you do that they went to
the guy and said hey that guy still in your stuff just a can watch take crackhead get beat
up how to convince one the jump-off a
building and he broke his ankles so pretty much
my you were able to do this to someone else
that really reinforces the boundary that you’re not in that group and then
sometimes they do have on do these menial tasks here I if you are hiding out either from the
police here some rivals who want to her you you can just pay crack heads to go do
your shopping and do whatever you just give them a little bit and this is also where there and cars
and so they give crackhead whatever amount are a crack
user whatever amount and the bar the car for some degree heat
agreed upon time and interestingly they usually bring the
car back it’s more common to bring the car back then to just steal it because they might want to do this again
I so what we see is that crack users recognize that they’re physically and
socially close to the crackheads and because it
is it’s really important to maintain those
boundaries right so if we’re trying to make a distinction
between I’m from Louisiana from Alabama that’s not really that bad
important the distinction so I don’t really have to reinforce this what if someone might mistake me for a
crackhead then I would really want to reinforce
those boundaries so they rely on these formula stories
about what a crackhead is writer crackheads are typical actors so these are dirty they’re incapable their week they are slaves to their drug and it forces them
to engage in the mean axe and then the expectable moral outcome is
that they should be humiliated they should be demeaned because they’re not
worth whereas I incremental criminally able I have the style and character love a good hustler and therefore you
should treat me accordingly and if you don’t treat me accordingly
then how use violence to kinda maintained a certain degree of
respect so acted one other the last things I’ll come out
as their benefits and using this formula
stories that we we can see from not just this study but other
studies and and one of them is that pretty much
what we’ve talked about today is that it allows you to create a positive sense of
self back you can either attach yourself to a
a valued formula story a type or you can distance
yourself from a stigmatized one so these guys could
have this team because they were hustlers they would not like the other
group the other group is beneath them it also facilitates understanding or question behavior so when someone asks why did you do that we often don’t really give them a full
explanation we just give ’em bit to the formula
story we give them the plot and then we fill in the rest listener
fills in the rest I think the her good example for up professionals is why are you leaving the
University I’m doing it for my family that’s it now we know we can fill in the rest of
the story we don’t have to keep questioning and so it allows us to just kind of
smooth over conversations um whether things we find is that a lot
of times when we interview people they don’t have
they try to have coherence stories but if you talk
to me long enough really fractured stories and I think the
reason researchers find more fractured stories
is because in our usual conversation we just throw out the form a story plot and our
listener says OK and then we move on but the researcher
just keeps going and keeps asking which then makes someone who maybe
didn’t really think out all the answers now they have to struggle and try to
fill in the gap and that’s when we start seeing all the fractures in the inconsistencies ’em it also aids in the a.m giving people direction and allow it to make a
decision and in excusing their behavior so in a sense the the
former stories can come before the behavior so if you’re unsure of what to do well
what would a crackhead do I’m not going to do that was a hustler
do that’s what I’ll do um and it can come after the fact I perhaps we just and did something and
someone said why’d you do it and then we get to excuse it by
referencing the form the story because that’s what people like me do
and so even if that wasn’t the real reason we can still kinda offer that reason and
it can have smooth over the interaction now before move on to condemn something so I’m planning and future I
don’t want it re if I these concepts I don’t wanna
make it seem like these are real concept that Israel crackhead in these
people are real hustlers this is just a social construct it
they’re not real and you can’t it’s difficult to really
put someone in a group so for instance the the rock rentals
that’s what they call me borrow a car for crack fairly Birmingham the call it doe pawns
but and Louisiana was a rock runoff summer them said they did that they loan
their car has evidence that they were crackheads I
to they didn’t have to go and do demean axe they don’t have to put their
hand in an Impala jump off a building or have sex with someone they just loaner car and that became
their method of saying I’m not a crack it wears a lot of the
people who borrow the car said oh yeah that’s a crackhead cuz they’ll
only the car so if the same behavior but it can canopy
people use it differently depending on how they see themselves and the person
that their interacting with so recognize these are not real concepts
are just can t ideal types that we use to create boundaries between
one another and so what we’re working on now is a in we’ve just finished paper on
women met users and how they construct boundaries who
have won the Coopers here if just like and we look at very similar thing about how
do women met these years create this distinction from the
function on dysfunctional let me go a little bit further and look at what we find is that even if
you say you’re in a category sometimes you don’t act
according sometimes you can say your functional
but then you do dysfunctional things and so now you’re
left with the choice do you accept alright hun now
dysfunctional I’m now method are now crackhead or you justify that behavior and say yeah
thats typically crackhead behavior but this time it’s
not because I had a real reason some still until K and so we look at how
do they account for these some kinda boundary slippages what we’re
calling them and then were also and starting a new
project but another co author Hayden okay about how college teens misuse psychostimulants and when things were looking at is how do
they rely on these cultural stories on expectations that
the middle class college student harm and really this I deserve success
in moderation and how to use that to Creed
distinctions between themselves and as adderall users which is an
amphetamine and other amphetamine users who are mathematics or illegal drug users and that is where we’re heading now

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