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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Twelve Step Recovery Model as an Ethic of Liberation

  • Author(s): Emmett, Patrick Flaherty
  • Advisor(s): Hughes, Jennifer
  • Alexander, Michael
  • et al.

The Twelve Steps can be viewed as an alternative medium for the transference of cultural knowledge, one that offers a different approach to constructing and maintaining cultural artifacts. Through this unique process of ethical self-examination and the resultant cessation of old modes of operating within a society that this recovery model encourages, oppressed and marginalized persons of all faiths have been given the tools to rid themselves of constructs that cause them to remain imprisoned in an existence they have participated in creating. Twelve step recovery is itself a path of negation, but not of what the sacred is not; it is rather, a path that deconstructs intellectual, spiritual, ethnic, and societal outlooks and configurations that take part in and enable wide-reaching exploitation of alcoholics, addicts, and other marginalized persons.

This dissertation examines the impact of the Twelve Step recovery model on middle class Americans through the interpretive lens of liberation ethics. It takes as an entry point the contention that the particular form of triumphalism engaged in by this group is both contributory to and a manifestation of the substance and process addictions which the Twelve Steps were designed to address. By examining the historical development of twelve step recovery programs as a response to the ethical tensions of participation in a culture of dominance, this dissertation seeks to elucidate the course of action by which the movement is involved in both transforming and reifying these structures of dominance. I seek to challenge the notion that twelve step movements are primarily effective only in bringing people back in line with the dominant ideological representation of American culture. This challenge will manifest in an interrogation of whether the twelve step movement, through its process of ethical self-assessment and restitution is converting this ideology of dominance of others (which is the dominant ideology) into a belief system based on mutuality and interconnectedness.

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