Social Movement Fields, Party Politics, and Approaches to the Opioid Epidemic in Central New York

Benita Roth, Binghamton University
Gabreela Friday, Binghamton University
Nilufer Akalin, Michigan State University

In this paper, we argue that local and state politics matter greatly in accounting for different approaches to the opioid epidemic in Central New York, and that activists and institutional actors find themselves in very different social movement “fields." Despite their proximity and similar demographics, each county developed different responses to fighting the opioid epidemic. In Broome County activists confronted recalcitrant institutional actors which forced them to act in response to public claims, showing a classic social movement outsider/institutional insider dynamic, and resulting in incremental changes in the approach to the opioid epidemic. In Tompkins County, a coalition of outsiders and insiders were brought under the institutional umbrella of a task force, resulting in more harm reduction-oriented approaches to the epidemic. And in Tioga County, the absence of outsider activists and the provision of state monies resulted in a coalition of institutional actors with fairly standard prevention goals. In this paper, we explore our findings to date, using the theoretical lenses of social movement fields and social stigma (Goffman 1963, and we consider local political responses to harm reduction approaches to dealing with the epidemic (Lenton and Single 1998). We then consider what overall demographics of race/ethnicity and class can (or cannot) tell us about the local politics of the epidemic, and we consider the media environment in Broome, Tioga and Tompkins counties. We then look at the markers of stark political differences from county to county to argue that the local politics of each needs to be part of our understanding of responses to the opioid epidemic, and we conclude by stating where our research will go next.

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 Presented in Session 208. State and Local Politics in the United States