Addiction Becomes Normal

Jaeyoon Park
Political Science
UC Berkeley

This dissertation studies the emergence of a novel discourse on addiction in the United States over the past half century, and the formative relation of this discourse to the subject in our time. Until the last decades of the twentieth century, addiction was both figured and practically treated as an aberrant condition of the subject—more precisely, as a state of regression or psychic collapse in which the subject is overcome by the wild and primitive desires most characteristic of animal life or infancy. Yet recently, addiction has emerged—across scientific, clinical, political, and popular discourse—as an important part of the constitution of the normal subject. Today, it is widely understood that addiction does not manifest a break with or deviation from the normal tendencies and capacities of the subject; rather, it is their extreme form. No longer is the addict an other subject, out there: we are all addicts in waiting, and to become addicted is human. Thus has addiction discourse come to circulate novel truths about the human—what it is, how it desires, and what capacities for agency it bears—in contemporary American society. This dissertation tracks the historical normalization of addiction and the addict and examines the ramifications of this phenomenon, not only for the diagnosis and treatment of addiction, but also for theoretical accounts of the subject in late modernity. Tracing structural isomorphisms between the novel subject of addiction and the human as it has been reimagined by several other recent U.S. cultural developments—including the rise of cognitive-behavior therapy and the wellness movement—this project argues that the figure that we encounter in contemporary addiction discourse may be an ascendant form of the subject in our time.