Writing About Rehabilitation Centers and Alcoholics Anonymous

Visits to all of our field sites in Sociology 215 are meant to do three things:

(1) Encourage you to think about readings and class topics and to use those materials in your discussion of the field experience;
(2) Raise issues for you about participation in community life and political activity and to discuss how engagement and social responsibility, or disengagement and social irresponsibility happen;
(3) Give you field experiences to prepare you for other courses that will have more intensive field experiences, like Anthropology/Sociology 201.

Your paper is not meant to be long. Three or four pages is enough. You also should not try to write about all of the themes given below. Pick your focus, state it, and give lots of description and detail to develop your points.

One of the most important things about the time you spend observing is that you should not be passive. Be involved in activities and, most importantly, talk to people. Try especially to meet people other than the hosts who bring us into the settings. In addition to the main participants in the program (the kids in a school), seek out and talk to some of the people who are more in the background---office people, family members, custodial staff. Look at the questions given for each assignment and ask people in the setting what they think about the issues that are listed.

Asking you to visit a Rehabilitation Facility or AA Meeting has three objectives.

1. The first is to encourage you to think about the philosophy of rehabilitation from substance abuse.

Many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers are built around the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is called the "Twelve-Step Approach" because AA has a simple list of tasks each individual must accomplish in order to recover. The twelve steps are explained at length in documents published by AA but they also are explained in meetings, although meetings may concentrate on one of the steps. It is important for you to understand what is going on in a meeting and what its goals are. These are both goals for the particular meeting and what individuals seek to accomplish by attending. It is important for you to go beyond simply listing the twelve steps and to understand the AA philosophy of what alcoholism is, how it is manifested, what the basic problem is, and what one must do, in general terms, to overcome addiction to alcohol. What I mean is that alcoholism is seen as a disease and a condition of selfishness that one overcomes by subordinating oneself to the community---also called a higher power. You ought to show some familiarity with this system of thought in your writing. You also ought to think about the concept of responsibility and how you see it attended to on the Bucknell campus among your peers.

2. What are AA meetings for and how do they work?

You can broaden this if you are visiting a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center like White Deer Run since it may have a variety of group therapy meetings and other programs for residents that also are intended to further the goal of recovery. What happens? What do you see in terms of the way the process of the meeting works? When you write, try to minimize your temptation to write a program summary as though you were writing something for the volunteer services office. Your objective is to give a personal reaction to what you see and what happens. You also want to talk about the people you see in the meeting, what they do, and what things surprise, impress, or bother you.

3. Who is at the meeting and why are they there?

This question is a bit delicate since AA is an ANONYMOUS fellowship so you do not want to be intruding on the privacy of meeting participants or presenting them in a way that identifies them too clearly. At the same time, an important part of meetings is for people to tell their stories. It also is important for people to acknowledge that they are alcoholics (or drug addicts if you attend Narcotics Anonymous). But some people are coerced to attend and may find it very difficult to honestly subordinate themselves to the authority they perceive to exist in the meeting or the philosophy of the organization. You might learn about sponsors and their role. You might explore whether AA as a group is a "community" and whether social capital and friendship are present. To give a counter view to that, one person said he dislikes attending and does not think of the co-participants as friends. He goes because were he not to go he would die and he hates that he must go. Thus he neither thinks of it as a setting for community nor friendship but he has very high standards for what goes on in a meeting and is very devoted to the organization and to his own participation.