Next stage of ‘table of tables’ addiction project turns tables on healthcare power structures

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Researchers from Goldsmiths, University of London, led by Dr Graham Harwood and participatory artists, are working with a Brixton addiction service to explore how healthcare databases impact on those seeking treatment.

Database Addiction 2.0 asks how knowledge obtained from being an addict can critique and inform the way addiction services are offered.

The research team will build on their 2015 Wellcome Trust-funded arts research project, Database Addiction. Developed with staff at Lorraine Hewitt House, the project led to a semi-permanent installation on the centre’s large meeting room tables.

The ‘table of tables’ was created as a physical representation of the researchers’ exploration into how staff administrating healthcare services - from drug workers to clinical psychologists to administrative staff - interact with databases and the impact it has on their day-to-day experiences.

It includes a data flow-chart which speculatively maps where information goes once entered ​in the system; notes and correspondence from sessions with staff; and wordlists along the edge of the table.

These words are derived from information documents available online and explore discourse analysis and how language in the field of addictions is processed by machines.

Critically, the installation is a talking point – an invitation for reflection, discussion and debate by service users, support workers, commissioners and others who may meet around the tables.

As a piece of art, it creates an exploratory space within a workspace where people have different understandings, priorities and hierarchies. The process of creating it allowed staff to reflect on the systems in place during their work.

The next stage - Database Addiction 2.0

Database Addiction 2.0 will use simple technological methods to build a database for and with people who have addictions - generating knowledge from service users and then creating an open database that is useful to their everyday lives.

The project aims to critically engage those taking part, and others within the service, on what contemporary databases do and how they might act on them.

The team’s hope is to reverse the standard power model. What if the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, the Electronic Patient Journey System and other databases, that are designed and administered by governmental healthcare services were designed by service users? What would they look like?

“Being an addict is frustratingly hard work: getting money, finding substances, taking care of yourself, accessing treatment,” explains lead researcher and Convenor of Goldsmiths’ MA Digital Culture in the Centre for Cultural Studies, Dr Graham Harwood.

“These are complicated formations that require knowledge situated very much in the activity of being an addict.”

“Addicts acquire a lot of knowledge in their pursuit of treatment and care yet this knowledge doesn’t enter the system that provides that treatment and care. We are exploring how that knowledge can shape the addiction service system.”

“There’s a flow of power that affects the lives of all those involved in the field of addiction – the addicts themselves and those providing care. Can this power formation be transformed by allowing service users to introduce their own knowledge into the databases that very much control their lives?”

Database Addiction 2.0 is co-led by NHS Clinical Psychologist Dr Luke Mitcheson at the Clinical Academic Group consortium, with the South London and Maudsely NHS Foundation Trust, working with arts producer Anila Ladwa.

Also working on the project are Goldsmiths MA Digital Culture alumnus Stephen Fortune (current PhD researcher at the University of Sussex) and Jean Demars, expert in homelessness, housing and care for asylum seekers.

The project will continue to work with its ‘Critical Friends’, a group of experts from the arts and health sectors, academia and computation (including Head of the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, Matthew Fuller) and service-user representatives. The Critical Friends Group is convened by Dr Alison Rooke, Co-Director of the Centre of Urban and Community Research (CUCR) at Goldsmiths’ Department of Sociology.

Database Addiction was created by YoHa arts organisation – its founders, artists Dr Graham Harwood and Matsuko Yokokoji, have pioneered several internationally celebrated critical arts projects which inquire into the everyday logics of database systems.