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Open Access Publications from the University of California


  • Author(s): Sales, Paloma
  • Advisor(s): Pinderhughes, Howard
  • et al.

Studies of illicit drug markets have focused predominantly on male dealers. Women's experiences may differ from those of men, but there are also variations among women who deal drugs. I address gaps in research on women in drug markets by focusing my dissertation research on women dealers of a variety of drugs and of different social locations (street dealers vs. middle-class dealers).

Data were derived from a NIDA-funded study entitled "A Qualitative Study of Women in Drug Markets." The subsample of 40 interviewees varied by type of drug sold. Half were street dealers and half dealt in private settings. I conducted face-to-face interviews to collect life histories, including women's experiences dealing drugs. I approach my study of women drug dealers with an eye towards developing a sociological theory of drug dealing.

I utilize intersectionality theory as a framework, but I expand the model to include elements beyond gender, race and social class that socially locate women drug dealers and thus provide variations in how they experience gender and manage stigma attached to the drug dealer label. These include economic theories, Social Problems theory, Deviance/Labeling theories, Presentation of Self/Deviant Identity theories, and emphasizing the particularity of localities. These form a comprehensive theoretical framework with which to study drug markets and that framework's application in one facet of drug markets: the experiences of women in what remain male-dominated drug markets.

While women capitalized on traditional gender roles to be effective drug dealers, it was their gender that precluded them from rising in the ranks and kept them at the lowest levels of drug market hierarchies. Women's social location had a profound impact on dealer identity constructions and stigma management. Some engaged in normalizing discourses by discussing their dealing activities in terms of work and business. Alternate labels helped women distance themselves from the drug dealer label. Others managed stigma by highlighting the positive aspects of dealing. Those at the fringe of mainstream society found status and respect in their associations with others at the fringe; yet others experienced a deep sense of social isolation and felt trapped in their drug dealing worlds.

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