'A culture of sharing': Drug exchange in a Norwegian prison

  • Mjåland K
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Abstract

Despite growing numbers of drug users in prisons all over the western
world, drug exchange behind bars has received little scholarly
attention. The few studies that exist describe the prison drug economy
as mainly following market-based principles of exchange. However,
ethnographic fieldwork in a closed Norwegian prison reveals something
different: prisoners share their drugs, rather than selling them. In
this article, I describe and try to explain this `culture of sharing'.
Drawing on anthropological theories of exchange, drug sharing is
understood as continuous gift-giving. The gift perspective allows us to
see how sharing is shaped by motives of caring, compassion and
solidarity, while it simultaneously emphasizes the self-interest
embedded in such drug exchanges. The article argues that sharing is a
highly effective form of drug exchange because there is a strong
commitment to reciprocate when a prisoner receives drugs. The `culture
of sharing' is both contingent upon and produces social relations
between prisoners. On the one hand, it offers an inclusive and solidary
community for drug using prisoners; on the other hand it is upheld by
strong social controls, by which deviations from accepted norms of
conduct (i.e. failing to share) are sanctioned in a variety of ways.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Mauss
  • buprenorphine diversion
  • drug exchange
  • prisons
  • reciprocity
  • sharing
  • social relations

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