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Sociology: People


Dr. Anna Ross

Dr. Anna Ross
Dr. Anna Ross
Edinburgh UK
Research Interests
Social Policy, Criminal Justice, Sociology of Drugs, Participatory Methods, Drug Policy

Thesis Overview

This thesis has now been accepted and published, and Anna Ross is currently working as a Senior Teaching Fellow on the MA Health and Social Sciences. If you are interested in being supervised by her on this topic please contact her on the email above.

Doing Drug Policy: narratives of participation in the development of critical drug theory

It is a well-documented and a historical fact that human beings have ingested certain substances in order to change their perceptions of reality for centuries, if not millennia (RSA 2007:89, Nutt, 2015, Bancroft, 2009, ch.2; Bennet & Holloway, 2010, ch.2). However, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that a serious effort was made to outlaw certain drugs for use other than medical, through international and national conventions and frameworks. The regulation of certain drugs has resulted in a policy framework to manage the governance of drug policy interventions, and it is the development of this framework, and participation of drug consumers (policy stakeholders) within this framework that the thesis explores, and critiques.


Using interpretive policy analysis as an overarching research design, the thesis explores the development of the concept of ‘problem drug use’, and seeks to unpick this concept using Carol Bacchis ‘Whats the Problem Represented to Be’ (WPR) approach (Bacchi, 2009). In doing so it highlights the master narratives framing both drug use, and drug user participation within policy development, in Scotland. Furthermore, as a result of using the WPR approach to analyse the data, a new critical theory entitled  critical drug theory (CDT) is developed. This theory sits alongside other critical theories such as critical race theory, by focussing on the narratives of silenced or marginalised communities.


The narratives surrounding drug use define the process by which the participation of stakeholders are incorporated into policy making. More specifically, the narratives of drug harm and the medico/legal structures which surround problematic drug use mean that participation is focused on a small section of the drug using population, namely 'problematic drug users', and the harm stemming from such use.

As a result of policy being focused on drug related harm, participation in policy is restricted to certain channels where the government feel they can be most effective. They therefore focus on the harms stemming from problematic use, and participatory processes to engage this affected community are developed along these lines.  

Critical drug theory seeks to challenge this focus by highlighting the silence around drug use for pleasure and self-medication, and the oppression of certain groups in society.  CDT is a work in progress and will need to be developed and tested in order for it to become part of the critical theory landscape. However, it is grounded in critical thought with the underlying premise that the foundations of drug policy, both national and international, are based on ideological reasoning that is often used to suppress and silence those who seek to challenge the status quo. Subjecting policies to critique and critical evaluation, such as research into the impact drug laws have on individuals and society (as opposed to the impact drug use has), should be advocated, along with public engagement on the complexity of drug use and harm.

Yet, because the dominant narrative surrounding drug use is one of totemic toughness (Stevens, 2009), and people who use drugs are viewed as problems to be dealt with as a result of the harm stemming from their use, those whose livelihoods would be put at risk if they were considered to lack personal control and agency will not raise their heads above the parapet.  This is the fundamental problem facing public participation in drug policy-making; only those willing to take the risk, or who have nothing to lose by ‘coming out’, will be engaged at this stage. These drug consumers are invariably already part of the system because they have had to identify as a drug user in order to access medical and social support. The focus on harmful drug use masks the widespread use of drugs by a variety of different communities, and prevents honest dialogue about the impact drug use, and drug policy has on society as a whole.

In addition to knowledge and theory creation, I have been involved in the setting up and convening of a multi stakeholder group called the Scottish Drugs Policy Conversations. The aim of this group is to explore drug policy reform in a safe a respectful environment.

PhD Supervisors

Dr Angus Bancroft

Dr Oliver Escobar

Educational Background

PhD (Sociology) - The University of Edinburgh

MSc in Alcohol and Drug Studies - University of the West of Scotland - Distinction

Diploma in Legal Practice - The University of Edinburgh

LLB with Honours - The University of Edinburgh - 2:1

Edinburgh Rudolph Steiner School

Relevant Employment History

Teaching - The University of Edinburgh (unless stated otherwise)

2020 - ongoing

Senior Teaching Fellow on the MA Health and Social Sciences:


Guest Lecturer: 'How to Make a Drug Problem'. The Sociology of Intoxication

Module Leader 'The Global Politics of Illegal Drugs'. Dundee University


Tutor: Social Policy and Society

Tutor: Sociology 1B: The Sociological Imagination
Guest Lecturer: 'How to Make a Drug Problem'. The Sociology of Intoxication
Guest Lecturer: 'Drug Policy in Scotland'. The Parliamentary Placement Programme
Tutor: Sociology 1B: The Sociological Imagination
Tutor: Doing and Desiging Social Research (DDSR)
Tutor: Sociology 1A: Private Troubles, Public Problems.
Tutor: Social Policy and Society
Tutor: Doing and Designing Social Research (DDSR).
Research Assistant: Edinburgh Law School, CRFR, Q step.

Crew 2000

Crew 2000 is an Edinburgh based drug information and support agency. I was a volunteer for Crew 2000 for 11 years, initially as an outreach worker and latterly on the Board of Directors as Vice Chair and a member of the Human Resources committee. I now work on a freelance basis for Crew 2000 as an Expert Witness on drug cases.


Law Enforcement and Public Health (LEPH) 2019

Law Enforcement and HIV Network Satellite meeting – part of the steering committee for the pre-conference consultation. International exploration of drug policing and policing.

The International Society for the Study of Drugs Policy 2017

Conference paper: ‘Developing a Critical Drug Theory: the role of narrative, knowledge and participation.’

Workshop: ‘Discretion, disclosure, identity and the drug-policy researcher’s drug use’.

Knowledge, Organisation and Policy Seminar, 2017. Hosted by the Academy of Government, The University of Edinburgh. Seminar paper (accepted) ‘Broadening the Landscape: the challenges of creating civic led policy networks’.

The International Society for the Study of Drugs Policy 2016

Conference Paper: Getting Voices to the Policy Table: the role of drug consumers and experiential knowledge in measurements of drug related harm. 

New Directions, 2016. The University of Edinburgh.

Conference paper: ‘Scottish Drug Policy: epistemologies of harm in knowledge and policy communities.’

Public Engagement

Adult Education workshop/seminars - Since 2015 I have been involved in an adult education Criminology class where I have presented and engaged the participants in discussion of drug policy in Scotland.

Explorathon 2016 – an EU wide initiative to engage the public in academic research hosted by the Beltane Public Engagement Network. Consisted of a presentation and conversations with the members of the public in a large shopping centre. The topic was ‘Doing drugs policy in Scotland’.

The Edinburgh Active Citizenship Group - Hosted by the Edinburgh city Council, this group meets quarterly to discuss pertinent social issues. It involves a presentation and round table discussions with the group. I presented on the topic ‘Highs and Lows: taking drugs policy seriously in Scotland.’

Beltane Public Engagement Networks’ ‘Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas’ 2017 (Edinburgh Festival event). Seminar and public engagement activity entitled Doing Drugs (Policy): stories, songs and a chance to engage’. I will be engaging the public on drug policy by telling stories collected from my research and my own experience, in addition to playing songs I have composed on the topic of drug use. I will use these to encourage the audience to share their stories of drugs, and the impact it has had on them and their wider community.

The Scottish Drug  Policy Conversation - Convener and member.

Blogs/Articles/Book Reviews

Ross, A., Potter, G., Barratt, M., Aldridge, J., (2020) Coming Out: Discretion, Disclosure and Identity in Drug Policy Research’. In review for ‘Contemporary Drug Problems’. Open access available at:

Ross, A. (2020) Drug Users as Stakeholders in Drug Policy. In Buxton, J. Burger, L., MArgo, G.(Ed's.) ‘The Impact of Global Drug Policy on Women: Shifting the Needle’. Open access avaiable at:

The National - April 2016 -  Analysis: Legislation will not address underlying causes of drug abuse and NPS -related deaths.

Sociology  - March 2016 - Book Review: Chasing the Scream: The First and the Last Days of the War on Drugs

Scottish Justice Matters - May 2015 - The launch of the Scottish Drug Policy Conversation.


Open Society Foundation's Global Drug Policy Programme: Grant for working activism and public engagement on drug decriminalisation in Scotland

Edinburgh University Student Association Teaching Awards 2017: Nominee for Best Personal Tutor and Best Feedback 

The Principals Career Development PhD Scholarship 2015- 18: public engagement strand. The University of Edinburgh

McLintock Prize for Best Performance in Criminology Honours (2007) The University of Edinburgh