Thesis ID: CBB025464248

“Dope Hope”: Synanon House and the Makings of a Recovery Counterculture, 1945-1965 (2023)


This dissertation argues that Synanon offered an alternative to the experiences of institutional confinement that dominated the lives of heroin users and addicts in post-World War II Los Angeles, and that its philosophy of getting clean forwarded alternative ways of living and structuring society. It focuses on Synanon’s origins and formative years, from 1958 to 1965, and the perspectives of Synanon people themselves in order to explore their creation of a recovery counterculture. Moving away from prevailing attitudes about sobriety as a path to middle-class respectability, Synanon saw sobriety as a springboard to social experimentation and self-realization. They also rejected the dominant postwar policy of mandatory addiction treatment, and instead demanded autonomy from government and professional medical authority. The story of Synanon, often reduced to a simplistic narrative of “drug rehab turned cult,” actually has far-reaching implications for the fields of addiction and recovery, nonconformity and dissent, and utopian communities and social movements in the twentieth-century United States.

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Authors & Contributors
Dehue, Trudy
Kaiser, David Isaac
Levidow, Les
Maher, Neil M.
McCray, W. Patrick
McNeil, Maureen
Mefisto: Rivista di medicina, filosofia, storia
History of the Human Sciences
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
NTM: Zeitschrift für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften, Technik und Medizin
Science as Culture
Science, Technology, and Human Values
Harvard University Press
University of Chicago Press
University of California, Irvine
Arcadia Publishing
Signature Press
The Getty Research Institute
Mental health and illness
Public health
Medicine and society
Mental disorders and diseases
Clinical psychology
Pirella, Agostino
Young, Robert Maxwell
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
20th century, late
19th century
United States
Los Angeles (California)
Great Britain
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Project Apollo (NASA)
Free Association Books
Technische Universität Berlin
Union Pacific Railway Company

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