"Khat causes families to break
a critical discourse analysis of khat use in Swedish
printed media 1995-2011
Johan Nordgren
Presentation at the Nordic Alcohol and Drug Researchers'
Assembly, 27-29 august 2012, Copenhagen.
 Work in progress.
 Critical discourse analysis of how khat and khat use is
represented in Swedish newspaper articles.
 Time range: 1995-2011.
Khat use
 Khat classified as a narcotic: Finland 1981, Sweden
1989, Norway 1989, Denmark 1993.
 In Sweden mostly confined to persons of Somali
 Mainly used in group settings – a psychoactive
substance with a pronounced social dimension.
Khat use
 NB - Ways of using is not uniform over time or
location. Different cultures of consumption related to
ethnic groups, age groups and cultural/national
context (cf. Ahmed 2010; Gebissa 2010).
 Use is contested – normal cultural practice or highly
detrimental and time-consuming ill?
Empirical material
 Swedish daily newspaper articles about khat use.
 Published between 1995 and 2011.
 Critical discourse analysis (CDA) – developed by
Norman Fairclough. Not a “pure” CDA analysis –
influenced by certain key concepts and foremost the
theoretical assumptions made.
Customs seizures
 Three crashed cars and a seizure of 73 kilos of the classified
plant khat. That is the result of a failed smuggling attempt
on the Öresund bridge early on Sunday morning.
 The man trembled with his hand on the gear stick and
looked as if he was going to bolt from the [customs] control.
The customs officer grabbed the ignition key and inside the
car over a quarter of a ton khat was found.
Daily newspaper articles
 Khat as a “new” substance used in a new cultural
context – in “the diaspora”.
 An arena where journalists tries to explain what khat
and its use is and how it effects the Somali
 Khat and khat use as constructed through the media.
Moral entrepreneurs
 Howard S. Becker - Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology
of Deviance (1963).
 Groups or individuals mobilize to change rules,
regulations or laws
 or
 develop, publish and legitimate specific images of a
drug as specifically harmful.
Police officers
Customs officers
Narcotics experts
Representatives from Somali culture societies
 Often working together in joint projects against khat
Common themes
 How khat affects the families of users.
 How khat is related to or causes unemployment and
social exclusion.
 Arguments for more severe punishments.
 The discrepancy between the Swedish policy of
criminalization and the acceptance in the UK and
(formerly) the Netherlands.
Focus on harm to the families
 Discourse is highly centered around harms from khat
use – particularly the family as the main unit.
 Implicit and explicit that users all live within family
 The addiction [to khat] often has social effects: families
breaks apart and the household economy is ruined.
 Khat breaks families apart.
 [khat] breaks families apart both economically and socially.
 [khat use] leads to social misery, families split apart and
economical ruination.
 Most khat addicts in Sweden live in a family. A lot of the
family’s money goes to drugs instead of food and
clothing. The addict run into difficulties keeping a job
and can become depressed.
 The inability to buy clothes for the children is used
very often to symbolize the negative effects of khat
 Many khat users has given evidence that they, when the
substance has left the body, becomes irritable,
aggressive and irritated. But this did [name] not
experience. He thinks that this can be very different
from person to person.
A deterministic pharmacological
 Facts-boxes present clear and well-defined effects of
khat on the user.
 Black-box thinking – the pharmacology of khat
determines the effects that the user will feel.
 Extensive focus on negative physical and mental
 [Khat] is centrally stimulating and similar to amphetamine.
The intoxication is described as a harmonious euphoria. A
concentrated euphoria that quickly turns into anxiety and
irritation. Prolonged use can lead to depression and suicidal
thoughts. The physical harms are among others loss of teeth,
constipation, impotence and liver injuries.
 But just as khat initially gives an inviting mood it suddenly
transforms into irritation and anger
Khat as facilitating sexual abuse
 Khat increases the sexual drive, but can also lower
[sexual] potency. These are properties that leads to
marital problems: after chewing khat the husband
might come home and molest the wife or in worst case
rape her.
Concluding remarks
 Khat discourse in Swedish newspaper articles is
rather one-sided and also stable over time (high
degree of intertextuality).
 Exclusive focus on negative effects – discussions of
positive effects are virtually non-existent.

"Khat causes families to break apart"