The concepts of the photovoice project










The idea of recovery is linked to new ideas about citizenship, focusing on the right of persons with mental health issues to live as equals in society and to promote social inclusion in the wider community (Beresford, 2003). A central belief is that people can change and become empowered citizens, even if they struggle with complex life challenges (Ness et al., 2014). Recovery discourse often focusses strongly on the self-determination of people. However, Neale et al. (2014, 10) argue that the participants from their study:


“did not have complete agency in determining their recovery journeys. Rather, their experiences were affected by complex interacting factors and material inequalities often beyond their personal control.”


Ness et al. (2014) state that thinking about recovery should start by acknowledging the fact that people are first and foremost human being with a life. There is no fundamental difference between people in how we all work with and through common life issues.



Moore et al. (2017) challenge the health-addiction binary that is part of science, public discourse and policy. They state that the debate on ‘addiction’ is being shaped by binaries such as: pathology/normality, compulsion/freedom, disorder/order, disease/health. These binaries are built upon modernist notions of the rational subject, which values attributes like free will, independence, self-control, responsibility, productivity and autonomy.


The way in which addiction is being framed as unhealthy, abnormal, non-responsible, … contributes to the moral discourse of ‘modern citizenship’. Those who are unwilling or unable to meet these ‘standards’, experience material implications for access to rights and rewards in regard to their citizenship status (Fraser & Valentine, 2008 & Pienaar, 2016).


Throughout the different debates on womanhood and recovery, there is an ongoing search to acknowledge gender as an important structure without essentializing womanhood as such. The danger of essentializing definitions of femininity is that it closes the debate on the diversity of experiencing womanhood in relation to race, gender, age, class, nationality, sexual orientation, values, culture, politics, individual biography and so on (Neale et al., 2014, 4). Conell (2009) proposes to: “treat gender as an important structure, but simultaneously recognise that it is multi-dimensional, differs from one cultural context to another, and is interwoven with other social structures.

There are however some interesting findings in relation to gender and addiction. There are some differences between men and women but, there are also differences between women who use drugs. (Neale, 2004). At the same time there is evidence that “the similarities between women and men who use drugs – in term of their complex life problems and vulnerabilities – often outweigh the gender differences (Neale, 2004). There is in other words no evidence of an ‘essential’ female recovery experience



Photovoice is a research method that is built upon stories, participation, community and social action. This way of working connects to the observation that the stories of some people and groups are never heard in society. These people and groups are often excluded from the social, cultural, political and social life. Photovoice is a research method that offers opportunities to effectively involve people living in socially vulnerable living situations in research (Aldridge, 2007; Wang & Burris, 1997).


Three objectives are often distinguished in photovoice (Booth & Booth, 2003; Wang & Burris, 1997). Initially, people are encouraged to share their own experiences and reflect on them. Secondly, photovoice focuses on making these individual stories and experiences collective. Opening up dialogue about is these experiences is crucial. This stimulates critical dialogue and the joint development of knowledge. Finally, photo voice is seen as a way to achieve (social) change. The aim is to reach and influence policymakers and wider society.


Aldridge, J. (2007). Picture this: the use of participatory photographic research methods with people with learning disabilities. Disability & Society, 22 (1), 1 – 17.

Beresford P. (2003). It’s Our Lives: A Short Theory of Knowledge, Distance and Experience. Citizen Press in association with Shaping Our Lives: London.

Booth, T. & Booth, W. (2003). In the frame: photovoice and mothers with learning difficulties. Disability & Society, 18 (4), 431 – 442.

Connell, R. (2009). Gender in world perspective (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Fraser, S. & Valentine, K. (2008). Substance and substitution: Methadone subjects in liberal societies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Moore, D., Pienaar, K., Dilkes-Frayne, E., & Fraser, S. (2017). Challenging the addiction/health binary with assemblage thinking: An analysis of consumer accounts. International Journal of Drug Policy, 44, 155-163.

Neale, J. (2004). Gender and illicit drug use. The British Journal of Social Work, 34,851–870.

Neale, J., Nettleton, S., Pickering, L., (2014). Gender sameness and difference in recovery from heroin dependence: A qualitative exploration. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25 (1), 3-12.

Pienaar, K. (2016). Claiming rights, making citizens: HIV and the performativity of biological citizenship. Social Theory & Health, 14(2), 149–168.

Ness, O., Borg, M. & Davidson, L. (2014). Facilitators and barriers in dual recovery: a literature review of first-person Perspectives. Advances in Dual Diagnosis, 7(3), 107–117.

Wang, C. C. & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behaviour, 24 (3), 369 – 387.