MSL READING #21: DOWN ON MAIN STREET: DRUGS AND
THE SMALL-TOWN VORTEX BY: PAUL DRAUS & ROBERT G.
CARLSON (p. 218-234)
One type of social deviance, according to sociologists, is crime.
If deviance is the violation of a social norm, then a crime is the violation of
social norms that have been made into laws.
Introduction: Small-Town America, Social Networks, and Substance Abuse
As in the inner city, illegal drugs have a home in rural America.
The abuse of mind-altering substances in small towns and rural areas is no
novelty and should come as no surprise.
Nonetheless, the belief in a rural-urban divide, in regards to drug use and other
While the city environment is often characterized by a higher degree of
anonymity and more liberal attitudes toward individual behaviour, the small
town is presumed to possess a level of unavoidable intimacy, in which the
individual is constantly confronted with the familiar.
Cities are seen as places where people are physically proximate but
socially distant, while in rural areas the situation is reversed.
The closeness of social relations and the homogeneity of values in more
rural areas, it is commonly believed, place distinct limits on individual
Some scholars have proposed that high degrees of network interconnection and
reciprocity, or “social capital” have an inverse effect in levels of crime and high-
risk health behaviours, including illegal drug abuse.
Small towns are symbolically equated with the presence of high social capital,
with “imagined geographies” of reciprocal care and control.
They are often the unstated norm that the “deviant” inner city is defined
The moral geography of small towns is idealized, and “deviant” behaviours such
as illicit drug dealing and using are defined as essentially “out of place”.
Thus, the dominant myth of the “rural idyll” serves to obscure the presence of
rural social marginality and also to preclude research among those most affected
There is a dark “underbelly” to the dominant “social capital narrative”: the
community’s belief that in its own imperviousness to problems of alienated you
caused them to overlook signs of trouble that seemed obvious in retrospect.
The same might be said of other social problems, such as illicit drug dealing and
abuse, which are often associated with urban areas.
Like inner-city neighbourhoods in the wake of deindustrialization, rural
communities may suffer from the long-term effects of the farm crisis, the
collapse of other traditional industries such as logging or mining, and
accompanying losses of jobs and population.
Illegal drugs are one corollary of rural-urban connectedness, and the
transmission of drug behaviours reflects the shared strains and desires of cities
and small towns.
Content, Composition, and Context
One key theoretical debate concerning the relationship between location or place
and behaviour has to do with the question of context or composition of local social
Is exposure to illicit drugs and subsequent drug abuse in rural areas
primarily a result of neighbourhood or community-level factors (context),
or is it largely a function of the individual psychologies or personalities
that happen to prevail in this population (composition)?
A relate question pertains to the presence of bridging as opposed to bonding
These terms refer to nature of the networks themselves: whether one’s
social contacts link one to other “loose” networks and resources or if they
simply tie one tightly into a single, “dense” network.
There are three crucial dimensions of social networks:
1.That of network structure,
2.That of network content, and
3.That of network function
In the case of drug-using networks, the surface function (that of illicit drug
using) may itself form the basis of social relationships (content) that constitutes
the network (structure).
If these drug-using networks overlap significantly with other networks,
especially those of work, neighbourhood, and family, we might predict that
an individual’s access or exposure to non-drug users would be much more
•In such cases, the tight social networks of the small town might in
fact amplify such behaviours, rather than constrain them.
In fact, the relationship between social capital and health outcomes is not always
Some research had found that the impact of social relationships on the
individuals’ mental states and behaviours can vary significantly
depending on the context and characteristics of those relationships.
Some research has shown that social capital that is valuable in one place may
actually serve as an obstacle to integration in the wider society, reinforcing the
idea of being “locked in”.
The same social environment may be experienced very differently by
people occupying different subjective positions within it, and one’s social
networks are a major component of how one experiences a social milieu.
Social networks profoundly shape the daily social processes that constitute one’s
tangible experiences and opportunities.
However, much of social networks research is highly quantitative, drawing on
survey and other sources for network data and building complicated
However, in recent years there have been more attempts to apply
qualitative methods in conjunction with other techniques of network
measurement, investigating “area effects” that promote or impede health
within particular communities, and examining the relationships between
people, their environments, and the characteristics of their social
Qualitative research on the relationship between social networks and substance
use behaviour has also shown distinct differences across contexts.
Research among African American women in rural Florida indicates that local
support networks may moderate the negative effects of addiction, and protective
effects have also been attributed to social networks among urban Latino
adolescents confronting drug use opportunities.
Pre-existing social capital was a valuable resource for middle-class individuals
recovering from addiction.
Qualitative research among smoker in disadvantaged communities in Glasgow
found that social networks and social stressors combined to reinforce smoking
patterns, not reduce them.
Non-injecting heroin user in San Antonio, Texas, had widely varying patterns of
risk behaviour based on their membership in familial or peer networks.
In a sense, these abstracted concepts of social networks, social capital, and social
support might all be seen as elements or dimensions of a larger whole, that
complex and concrete set of lived relations and associations that constitute social
From this perspective, the attempt to analytically separate social
networks from the physical locations where they occur is somewhat beside
the point, as these are all constitutive of a seamless human and social
Msl read ing #21: down on ma i n street: drugs and. T he small-town vortex by: paul draus & robert g. one type of social deviance, according to sociologists, is crime. if deviance is the violation of a social norm, then a crime is the violation of social norms that have been made into laws. I ntroduction: small-town america, social networks, and substance abuse. as in the inner city, illegal drugs have a home in rural america. the abuse of mind-altering substances in small towns and rural areas is no novelty and should come as no surprise. nonetheless, the belief in a rural-urban divide, in regards to drug use and other issues, persists. cities are seen as places where people are physically proximate but socially distant, while in rural areas the situation is reversed.