Spatial and social reinterpretations : living with cultural dissonance in a therapeutic community for drug-users
This study sets out to answer two related questions regarding the Therapeutic Community (TC) method of drug rehabilitation in Thailand. How do drug-users come to understand the TC, and live their lives within it? How culturally appropriate is this kid of model imported from The USA into SE Asia? The fieldwork took place at Thanyarak TC, Thailand. Forty-three drug-users were interviewed individually up to six times in their first three months of treatment. Through qualitative interviewing techniques they were encouraged to relate their experiences of living in the TC. The theoretical framework adopted is based on Henri Lefebvre’s (1993) work on spatial theory. He does not prescribe how social space should be understood. Instead he presents a series of closely linked ideas on the nature of social space, and its production. These ideas are concerned with the nature of space in the way it is conceived, perceived and lived by people. It was particularly appropriate for this study, where a walled institution was being examined through individual interpretations of the life led within it. The method employed offers new perspectives on conducting qualitative research in a different culture. It adopted a team approach to research. It also developed a team review system triggered by a pilot study at the beginning of each round of interviews. The analysis pointed to issues of cultural miscomprehension. To accommodate dissonance between the official TC method and their understandings of its participants employed a range of avoidance techniques. Underpinning these social and spatial reinterpretations is a familiarisation process. It begins with attempts to make sense of the TC before moving to personal and collective adaptations of the method. This study has practical applications, adding to the debate on the cultural appropriateness of TC in Southeast Asia.