From Treatment to Containment to Enterprise: An Ethno-history of Therapeutic Communities in Puerto Rico, 1961–1993

  • Caroline M. ParkerEmail author
Original Paper


Unpaid work is now a central therapy in Puerto Rican therapeutic communities, where substance users reside and seek to rehabilitate each other, often for years at a time. Once a leading treatment for addiction in mainland United States, therapeutic communities were scaled back in the 1970s after they lost federal endorsement. They continue to flourish in Puerto Rico for reasons that have less to do with their curative powers than with their malleability as multi-purpose social enterprises and their historical co-option by state, market and family actors who have deployed them for a variety of purposes. Their endurance from the 1960s to the neoliberal present obliges us to recognize their capacities as what Mizruchi calls abeyance mechanisms whereby ‘surplus’ populations, otherwise excluded from labor and home, are absorbed into substitute livelihoods. Having initially emerged as a low-cost treatment, in a context of mass unemployment and prison-overcrowding they now thrive as institutions of containment and informal enterprise.


Drug addiction Therapeutic communities Surplus Abeyance Puerto Rico 



This research was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation Cultural Anthropology Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant (1729646, awarded to Caroline Parker).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public HealthColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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