by Linda Farris Kurtz, DPA

Professor Emeritus, Eastern Michigan University School of Social Work,
author of Self-Help and Support Groups: A Handbook for Practitioners

Pages xxi-xxii in Annette R. Smith, Ph.D., The Social World of
Alcoholics Anonymous: How It Works,
Hindsfoot Foundation Series
on Treatment and Recovery (New York: iUniverse, 2007).

I first became acquainted with Annette Smith's approach to the sociological study of A.A. a number of years ago, via her doctoral dissertation. One of the best examples of qualitative research on A.A. which I had come across, the social world framework which she provided offered a practical and down-to-earth analysis. It is one I have turned to and cited often in my research, writing and teaching career since that time. In this present book, Smith further clarifies the social world concept while also illuminating our understanding of the fellowship. Her exacting description of A.A. will introduce the organization to those who know nothing about it and enlighten those who know something, but not everything.

Smith's application of a conversion typology further shows the complexity and variation of recovering styles and how conversion to a new identity comes though numerous processes of conversion and not simply through brainwashing or coercion, as is often thought.

You hear it said that A.A. is not for everyone, but many who initially reject it urgently need it. As helpers and bystanders we must understand that the process of inclusion in A.A. is not uniform. There are different paths to affiliation and that is what Annette Smith makes clear in her study of A.A. participation. This is important for anyone who works in the alcoholism field or does research on recovery.

At the heart of her careful analysis is the idea that group dependency can be "constructed" by and for those who are not natural joiners in order for them to become integrated within the A.A. support system. Clarifying how some newcomers may not fit in or take to the group, but later become attached to it, contributes greatly to understanding the process of affiliation. Otherwise, we assume that the dropout is a person for whom A.A. holds no hope. Classifying this kind of person as an "individualist" shows that he or she can make as much use of A.A. as those who are more group-oriented if properly assisted while in recovery. As part of this clarification, Smith highlights the importance of dyadic relationships in early recovery. This is significant for professional counselors (social workers) who can introduce newcomers to someone who takes on the role of temporary sponsor.

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