Anonymous encounters on illegal paths: An ethnographic study of the dark web and street-based harm reduction services for people using drugs (2021–)

The use of illicit drugs has increased and diversified significantly in Finland. The main reason for this is due to the shift of drug marketing from the streets to the anonymous dark web, from which drugs reach a wide audience. Changes in drug culture and drug markets have obliged the development of substance use services. Recently, harm reduction services taking place outside workers’ office spaces have been developed, and support has been provided to where people buy and use drugs, such as on the dark web and on the streets. However, little information is available on the meanings and benefits of this kind of work in reaching and encountering these people and reducing the harm caused by drug use. In this postdoc research project conducted by PhD Johanna Ranta, the ethnographic data consists of client-work encounters on the dark web and the streets, interviews with clients and workers and a researcher’s field diary. The project examines the opportunities, weaknesses and risks that the dark net and streets as meeting places pose for harm reduction work among people using illicit drugs. In particular, from the perspectives of clients and workers, the contents and meanings of harm reduction work encounters on the dark web and streets are studied. Furthermore, the verbal and non-verbal interactions during these encounters are also considered.

The research project is funded by the Kone Foundation 2022–2025.