Exploring the (sub)cultural dynamics of gay, bisexual and queer male drug use in cyberspace

  • Brian Jay Frederick

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In 2015, Peccadillo Pictures released the movie ‘Chemsex’, an 80-minute documentary about the experiences of gay, bisexual and queer male (GBQM) drug users in London—men whose lives have been impacted by chemsex, that is, the mixing of illicit drugs such as crystal methamphetamine, gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) and mephedrone with ‘risky’ sex. The film has been described by the media as painting a bleak portrait of a ‘subculture on the edge’—one that is fuelled by both the heteronormative marginalization of GBQM and the popularity of online and mobile-based GBQM social networks. The release of ‘Chemsex’ was prompted by research that reveals increases in GBQM drug use—not only in London, but among GBQM in many gay ghettos throughout the world. Most of these studies emerge from disciplines outside criminology—for example, behavioural health, epidemiology and public health. These studies also describe GBQM drug users as existing within a subculture. Moreover, these studies also link GBQM drug use to external marginalization and or stigma related to sexual identity or HIV-seropositivity. Yet, rarely are the cultural dynamics of GBQM drug use fully explored. Neither do these studies address the fact that drug use—in most jurisdictions—is a crime.

Cultural criminologists argue that crime, deviance and transgression are part of an ongoing process that is interwoven with the dynamics of culture and all of its attendant meanings. This thesis explores the cultural dynamics that may shape the meanings that underlie GBQM drug use— in particular, drug use that is facilitated and or expressed through cyberspace. This thesis conceptualizes the cultural dynamics of GBQM drug using three tenets that are central to cultural criminological inquiries: that crime and deviance and transgression are often related to marginalization and oppression; that these phenomena are often subcultural in nature; and, that subcultures cannot be studied apart from their mediated representations.

Complementing this framework is a research design that employs virtual ethnography, instant ethnography, ethnographic content analysis and visual content analysis. Critical discourse analysis is also employed in an effort to analyse the underlying power differentials that are present in the mediated representations of GBQM drug use. Using these methods, I was able to participate in the activities and understandings of GBQM drug users who were situated in cyberspace. Using the theoretical framework that was constructed, I was then able to analyse and draw conclusions as to the cultural dynamics that underlie their activities, behaviours, language, norms, rituals and values.
Date of Award18 Nov 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Kent
  • University of Hamburg
SupervisorMarian Duggan (Supervisor) & Susanne Krasmann (Supervisor)


  • Cultural Criminology
  • Queer Criminology
  • LGBT Studies
  • Drugs
  • Social Media

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