Mapping “drug places” from below. The lived cities of marginalized drug users

Germes, M., Klaus, L. and Steckhan, S. (2021), “Mapping “drug places” from below. The lived cities of marginalized drug users”, Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 21 No. 3 https://doi.org/10.1108/DAT-12-2020-0085

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On top of their legal, economic, social and institutional marginalization, marginalized drug users (MDUs) also experience political marginalization: drug policies shape their lives without their political participation. From a scientific as well as a political perspective, the inclusion of their various viewpoints and situated knowledge is a major challenge, and one to which this paper aims to contribute in light of the experiences and imaginaries of MDUs urban spaces in several German cities.

Following a socio-geographical approach, this paper interrogates how MDUs appropriate and imagine the city, drawing on Lefebvre’s Production of Space and mixing critical cartographic with grounded theory, in the attempt to both understand and reconstruct the world from the situated perspective of MDUs based on their own words, drawings and emotions.

The narratives and drawings of participants show another cityscape, radically different from the hegemonic discourses and mappings antagonizing MDUs and making their existence a social problem. Space appears as a means of marginalization: there are barely any places that MDUs can legitimately appropriate-least of all so-called “public space.” By contrast, MDUs’ imaginaries of an ideal city would accommodate their existence and address further social justice issues.

The notion of “public places” appears unable to express MDU’s experiences. Instead of focusing on the problem of public spaces, policymakers should tackle the question of placemaking for MDUs beyond the level of solely drug-related places.