“Dope Hope”: The Synanon Foundation, Grassroots Recovery Activism, and Popular Struggles over Addiction Treatment, 1945-1980


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines the grassroots addiction recovery movement that emerged in the post-World War II United States, spearheaded by self-identified drug addicts who asserted that treatment was as much a political and social process as a medical one. It focuses on the Synanon Foundation, the controversial recovery commune founded in 1958 and dissolved in 1991. Synanon fused innovative treatment techniques with broader concerns of social justice and utopian thought, eventually establishing a planned community for both “dope fiends” and “squares” in the late 1960s. Its radical model of recovery asserted that the solution to treating addiction was also a way to forge a good and just society. For these reasons, Synanon and the larger recovery movement it initiated shed a unique light on the debates over mental health and illness, expert authority, state power, and participatory democracy that undergirded social change and unrest in the postwar era.