The Dictionary

Roz taught me that our society’s labeling of those who suffer from structural violence with accusations like drug addict, those with drug abuse disorders, druggie, or crackhead, can further structural violence’s grasp. She taught me how important it is to normalize concise and contextualized language, especially in Philadelphia.

A term that Roz repetitively utilized when describing the data she collects in her community was the word Sunshine. She described to me how she needed a term that could be applied to everyone she meets, while not having a denigrating tone or connotation, like babe, hon, or addict. Her repetitive use of the label Sunshine has earned her the name Mama Sunshine; other activists in the Kensington community have now taken up Roz’s use of the label Sunshine, so now anyone utilizing the term in the neighborhood is associated with love, compassion, and harm reduction technologies such as Narcan. 

My conversations with Roz emphasized to me that language holds a vital role in our society

Just as data visualization can impact and shape the way that we perceive the world, language choices have the power to do the same. There are ethnographic works solely devoted to this topic; for example, Professor João Biehl in his work Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment describes his interactions with a woman named Catarina, who is creating a dictionary. Catarina’s Dictionary represents a journey of her attempts to grasp her changing world; creating new words and names allows her to reconcile with the altering effects of pharmaceuticals in her body. Much like Catarina, this dictionary contextualizes words or concepts that the viewer may encounter in this website. It will provide an explanation for the word’s inclusion and will contest its relevance in our society. It’s existence on this website argues that we must be careful of the language which plagues our society in order to dismantle the effects of structural violence.

My goal for this dictionary is for it to be a guide in discovering how our words and their definitions shape our perceptions of the world. I hope that by creating a space to rethink our sometimes unconscious use of language and definitions of commonly accepted words, ideas, and frameworks, we can be more open to moving against our socially constructed notion of health. A dictionary can act as a data visualization in this way: combining data points and presenting them in a novel way.