Digital Artwork: Needle Fetish II

Original digital artwork by iopan. March 2016.

The following is an abstract from an academic paper available from

Governing the injecting drug user: Beyond needle fixation

Ian Walmsley

University of the West of England, UK



This article offers a critical contribution to the debate on a problematic ‘type’ of injecting drug use referred to as needle fixation. At the heart of this debate, is a questioning of the existence, prevalence and usefulness of the needle fixation concept for academics and drug treatment practitioners working with injecting drug users. The aim of this article is to extend and develop this discussion by examining the historical conditions of the needle fixation discourse. Drawing upon Michel Foucault’s concept of governmentality, it uses primary and secondary sources from the nineteenth century to the present to trace the historical trajectory of the problematic relationship between the injecting drug user, the syringe and truth. By reconceptualising needle fixation as a technology of government, this paper will argue that needle fixation can be seen to be incompatible with contemporary rationalities found in treatment policy and practice, suggesting that we have moved beyond needle fixation as a way of governing injecting drug use and into the domain of risk management. Beyond revealing this tension, the article highlights new lines that are currently being drawn between the injecting drug user, the syringe and truth from the field of neuroscience and the risk-management potential of psychopharmacology.


drugs policy, genealogy, governmentality, injecting drug use, needle fixation, neuroscience

Biographical note
Ian Walmsley teaches criminology in the Department of Health and Applied Social Science at the University of the West of England. He has recently completed his doctoral research which investigated the subjectivities, techniques and political and scientific discourses that come together to govern problem drug user.

Corresponding author:
Mr. Ian Walmsley, University of the West of England, Department of Health and Applied Social Science, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY, UK.



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