A hell of a life: Addiction and marginality in post-industrial detroit

Paul J. Draus, Juliette K. Roddy, Mark Greenwald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Drawing on concepts from Foucault and Agamben, we maintain that the lives of daily heroin users provide a prime illustration of bare life in the zone of indistinction that is contemporary Detroit. First, we consider the case of Detroit as a stigmatized and racially segregated city, with concrete consequences for its residents. We then present evidence from in-depth ethnographic and economic interviews to illustrate the various spaces of confinement-that of addiction, that of economic marginality, and that of gender-occupied by these men and women, as well as the indeterminacy of their daily lives, captured through their descriptions of daily routines and interactions. We examine their expressions of worth as expressed in economic, emotional and moral terms. Finally, we draw connections between the sustained marginality of these individuals, as a contemporary category of homo sacer, and the policies and powers that both despise and depend upon them. Heroin, we contend, helps to fill and numb this social void, making bare life bearable, but also cementing one's marginality into semi-permanence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-680
Number of pages18
JournalSocial and Cultural Geography
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Bare life
  • Biopolitics
  • Detroit
  • Heroin
  • Marginality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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