SPIRITUAL MALADIES: AA MEMBERS AS INTERPRETERS OF A SYMBOLIC CULTURE
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This ethnography engages with Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA’s) self-defined alcoholics and addicts as participants in the co-construction of meaning through AA’s cultural framework. It is concerned with how they determine and articulate what is important to them in the context of ‘recovery,’ a process which I argue is concerned with issues of self in the social world as much or more than it is with the consumption of substances. My research prioritizes AA members, and explores how who they are and how they interrelate is given form both through AA group meetings and relationships and events that happen outside of meetings but remain part of AA’s conceptual universe. Based on this, I advance an analysis of AA concepts of alcoholism, disease, and the spiritual malady – which I understand to be a previously unresearched contemporary concept in AA – as symbolic in that they capture and express a myriad of experiences that extend well beyond drinking. The research that informed this thesis was designed in part to respond to methodological shortcomings of previous qualitative research on AA by advancing a holistic analysis that understands AA as an interdependent cultural system, rather than an institution with inflexible codes of conduct. It argues that as well as being labelled, stigmatized subjects of normative social forces, addicts can also be self-interpreting agents who develop important community knowledge about the nature of the problems they face and what to do about them.