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Peer-Based Outreach Workers As Agents of Social Collective Change



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Place is not a static backdrop for social relationships; rather, it is a dynamic product of the interactions among the people, practices, objects, and representations contained within it. Often, street-involved people who use drugs are excluded from interactions that would otherwise allow them to participate in community dynamics. In Vancouver, British Columbia, peer-based outreach groups redress these barriers by providing low-threshold positions to individuals living with active or past addiction. The overall question of this thesis is: what is the role of place in the health of an individual and of a community? Objectives include: (1) applying existing models of social exclusion to outline barriers preventing Peer Members from engaging in placemaking; (2) mapping the ideological positionality of the Peer Members and the rest of the community with regard to citizenship; and (3) exploring how Peer Members utilize their biosocial role as outreach workers to establish social capital and situate themselves as participants in a healthy community. By providing a platform where various social identities can interact with one another, ties of familiarity are established between these groups, thus enabling the transfer of resources, knowledge, and shared norms of respect. The first half of the discussion focuses on how social and geographic displacement legitimizes the process of social abandonment. Consequently, this relegated the Peer Members and their peers into the role of anti-citizen, rationalized their marginalization, and reinforced the wider community’s stigma toward people who use drugs. The latter half of the discussion illustrates how the Peer Members utilize their biosocial role of outreach and support workers to navigate boundaries and establish social connections to circulate knowledge and information within and among different social fields. This enabled the expression of mutual reciprocity, thereby negotiating the place of people who use drugs and harm reduction among the wider community. Place is therefore a concept that shapes, and is shaped by, the social networks that determine social legitimacy or illegitimacy. Although marginality and oppression cannot be transformed immediately, creating a social environment where Peer Members can be supported and support one another helps mitigate the marginalization that characterizes their lives.



Harm reduction, HIV/AIDS, drug use, peer-based organizations, placemaking, social exclusion, social capital, community health



Master of Arts (M.A.)


Archaeology and Anthropology




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