Harm reduction in process: The ACON Rovers, GHB, and the art of paying attention

Stream: Drugs: Experiences of drug use, prevention and treatment across different populations
Date: Thursday, 31 March 2016
Time: 11.15 am – 1.00 pm


In recent work on environmental and health risk, Isabelle Stengers has suggested that neoliberal modes of governmentality are seized by a strange injunction: ‘the right not to pay attention’ (2015). She characterises ‘paying attention’ as an art that brings into play connections we are in the habit of keeping separate.

In this paper, we use this insight to characterize different forms of prevention in the drugs field, arguing that modes of attention are an important consideration for ‘counterpublic health’ and harm reduction.

Our case study centres on the ACON Rovers, a team of volunteers who rove around LGBTIQ dance events on the lookout for people in trouble. Through certain ‘arts of interception,’ and an immanent practice of working with possibilities, the Rovers aim to avert certain dangers, especially those associated with the drug GHB. Doing this work well involves a certain mode of attending to risk derived from communal embodied experience that has regard to the affective relations and impacts of surveillance. Since they effectively intervene in drug effects, we suggest the Rovers are engaged in a form of ‘ontological politics’. Their mode of operation can be contrasted with that of drug enforcement, which assumes ‘the right not to pay attention’.


Kane Race (Presenter), University of Sydney
Kane Race is Associate Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. He has published widely on gay male responses to HIV/AIDS in the context of antiretroviral therapy. His book, Pleasure Consuming Medicine: the queer politics of drugs (2009, Duke University Press) draws on gay community responses to HIV/AIDS and drug harm reduction to promote what he calls ‘counterpublic health’. He is currently working on a monograph entitled "A Gay Science: Remaking Sex, Drugs and HIV Prevention in the Digital Context", under contract with Routledge.

Davi Martinelli, University of Sydney

Dermott Ryan, ACON

Johann Kolstee, ACON