Recovering Whiteness in Medical-Restorative Rehab

Sarah Whetstone, Teresa Gowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present an ethnography of a highly medicalized rehab for stably employed, non-criminalized men in Minnesota—arguing that while its style of rehab is universalized in popular accounts, it actually represents a case of distinctly white, middle-class self-reinvention within the broader field of US addiction treatment. “Medical-restorative rehab” at “Healing Bridges” offered Twelve-Step treatment, popular addiction science, and medication-based therapies to white suburbanites recovering from addiction. While many patients had engaged in substantial drug-related crime, the program's location outside the carceral state shielded participants from the stigma of criminalization, enabling them to construct their recovery as “voluntary” and restoring the fusion of white masculinity with self-controlled possessive individualism. Bridges naturalized patients' privileged social location as “treatment readiness”—mapping inner strength and willpower onto the white, middle-class self. The program then worked to instill techniques of self-management, convert addictions into productive pursuits, and regulate desires in an uncertain world. Despite Bridges' rhetoric of heroic hyper-agency, self-governance was heavily supported by pharmaceutical interventions, shifting stigmatized drug dependence to licit pharmaceutical dependency constructed as responsible self-care. Our analysis extends the study of American rehab as an important institution for the reproduction of distinct classed, raced, and gendered constructions of self-hood and agency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)676-699
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Forum
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Eastern Sociological Society.


  • addiction treatment
  • agency
  • medicalization
  • subjectivity
  • therapeutic governance
  • whiteness


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