Helping addicts to reintegrate into the larger society. a situated and collective learning process

Fernández Fastuca, Lorena (2018). 'Helping addicts to reintegrate into the larger society. A situated and collective learning process' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Buenos Aires, Argentina 2018.


This paper aims to explore how a social organization which purpose is to reintegrate recovering addicts into society achieves it with focus on the well-being of the person and respect of his/her individuality, at the same time that constitutes itself as an institution of social care in one of the underprivileged parts of a city. We propose to think this process as one of situated learning. That is to say, both the process of recovery and that of being constituted as an institution are a process of change, of learning, which depends on the context and involve enculturation in a social practice.

The concept of situated learning claims that there is no activity that is not situated and that knowledge and learning are built in interaction with others and with the context. From this perspective, learning necessarily implies the enculturation into a specific community from which one learns its customs, values, activities, etc. This process of inculturation denotes learning trajectories, developing identities, and forms of membership into the community. The process of addiction recovering has been conceptualized as a process of situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). In this paper we focus on the idea that the members of the social organization that aim to help them, take part in the same learning process and have to become members of the same large community (which involves the families, members of social organization and the recovering addicts themselves).

The methodology of the study is qualitative, descriptive in nature. It is a case study of a social organization situated in an underprivileged part of a touristic city of Entre Rios state in Argentina. This social organization is part of a larger one of a national level that that houses neighborhood centers. The neighborhood centers are devices that were born as a pastoral response from the Catholic Church to the difficulties of recovering addicts, with the awareness that these are truly serious problems of social exclusion. The neighborhood centers are presented as a shelter where there are others and the close presence of peers make it possible to start building a network of relationships. The one of this case study, was founded two years before our study.

In order to gather the information, in-depth interviews were conducted with different members of the social organization, documents were analyzed and various activities of the institution were participated. First, 8 members of the organization were interviewed (among them the director, treasurer, workshop teachers, referents) and 3 recovering addicts (one of whom also has a role as a member). Second, documents produced by members of the organization that define their work and conception were analyzed. Finally, they participated in workshops with young people in recovery, lunches, team meetings and other activities of the daily life of the organization.

It is possible to identify two distinct but complementary learning processes that give rise to it and allow the existence of this neighborhood center. On the one hand, the center and its members as an institution that takes care of the other. In this sense, for example, the origin and history of neighborhood center analyze is based on the learning process of its director and firsts members. At first, the activity focused on getting to know the problem in depth. This meant going to the hospital at weekends to talk with the children who were admitted due to drugs problems, visit the neighborhoods, and learn about addictions from the reading of specialized texts. The study on the subject of addictions gave them "intellectual security" but then in practice that knowledge was insufficient to help and accompany the recovering addicts. In addition, it became evident that the problem was not in drugs themselves but in the experience of social exclusion of the young men and women. Thus, the main learning was done in practice, in listening to the addicts, their families, in getting in touch with the reality they were living and trying to help them.

This process of situated learning has place mainly with how the institution understands and approaches the recovering process. Specifically, the dilemma between an abstentionist or non-abstentionist approach, and how one and the other would be implemented in the daily life of the center.

On the other hand, it is the learning process of the recovering addict. The orientation given from the neighborhood center has a craft character, which implies not projecting standardized success models. On the contrary, create a path, a model for each boy. Its objective is to accompany life in all its circumstances and in all its dimensions. Each of the boys is setting a path to recovery and learning to live in a different way.

Among all the members of the neighborhood center is a community of practice with different learning trajectories in which older members receive and accompany the new ones, empowering their own recovery process or working as a staff member of the center.



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