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Comprehending Drug Use

Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic Research at the Social Margins

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Comprehending Drug Use
    Book Description:

    Comprehending Drug Use, the first full-length critical overview of the use of ethnographic methods in drug research, synthesizes more than one hundred years of study on the human encounter with psychotropic drugs. J. Bryan Page and Merrill Singer create a comprehensive examination of the whole field of drug ethnography-methodology that involves access to the hidden world of drug users, the social spaces they frequent, and the larger structural forces that help construct their worlds. They explore the important intersections of drug ethnography with globalization, criminalization, public health (including the HIV/AIDS epidemic, hepatitis, and other diseases), and gender, and also provide a practical guide of the methods and career paths of ethnographers.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4993-4
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. 1 Through Ethnographic Eyes
    (pp. 1-24)

    This passage represents the kinds of raw data on drug use that are collected by drug ethnographers, complete with errors and unrefined prose. I (Bryan Page) was in Costa Rica in 1973 working on a study of the effects of long-term marihuana² use among working-class Costa Rican males when I recorded these field notes. We present them here to reflect the most basic aspect of ethnography’s process—that it takes the ethnographer to places where he or she may never have been before and demands utmost attention to detail of both behavioral and contextual content and sequence of events.


  5. 2 The Emergence of Drug Ethnography
    (pp. 25-49)

    Bernardino de Sahagún is known to history as a man who passionately devoted himself to interviewing Aztecs—in the Nahuatl language—about their history and culture. A Spanish Franciscan friar assigned by his church to travel to the New World (just eight years after Hernando Cortés’s soldiers and Indian allies had conquered the Aztec Empire in 1521), Sahagún served as a teacher and evangelist at the Imperial School of the Holy Cross in Tlatelolco, Mexico. He learned and wrote about the traditional use of various drugs in pre-Columbian Mexico as a result of his research. With reference to use of...

  6. 3 Systematic Modernist Ethnography and Ethnopharmacology
    (pp. 50-69)

    In the late 1950s, an alternative to what had become the reigning view of drug users as social deviants began to appear. Its source was the qualitative, interactive study of drug users, and its focus came to be guided by what would come to be called the “drug use as subculture” paradigm. This transition marked the emergence of systematic drug ethnography and psychotropic ethnopharmacology. We refer to this period as modernist in the sense that it was characterized by the modern scientific understanding that if we are systematic and objective in data collection, we can understand foreign ways of life...

  7. 4 Drug Ethnography since the Emergence of AIDS
    (pp. 70-85)

    Before the medical/scientific community understood the mechanisms that caused collapses of patients’ immune systems, interviews with people who had the mysterious syndrome initially called Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) and then, later, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) indicated that some complexes of behavior might be related to its presence. The first two patient subgroups identified in the United States had at least one behavioral characteristic that set them apart from other people: if they were not men who had sex with men (MSM) or people who received regular transfusions of blood products, they were people who reported that they injected illegal...

  8. 5 Drugs and Globalization: From the Ground Up and the Sky Down
    (pp. 86-112)

    This chapter examines drug ethnography from a global perspective. Its subject is the impact of globalization on drug use and the conduct of contemporary drug ethnography. Framing the dynamic interface between macro-structural and micro-observable processes, behaviors, and relationships is a critical challenge for contemporary ethnography. The chapter assesses how ethnographers understand drug use in a rapidly globalizing world and the concepts and constructs they use in this process. As part of this examination, the chapter presents ethnographic research on and the contribution to understanding of (a) supply-side issues in the flow of drugs (i.e., trafficking), including drug markets and patterns...

  9. 6 The Conduct of Drug Ethnography: Risks, Rewards, and Ethical Quandaries in Drug Research Careers
    (pp. 113-132)

    In this chapter, we are concerned with the process of doing drug ethnography as an approach to knowledge and as an intense personal experience that requires difficult moral decisions. Building on the brief discussion of key ethnographic methods presented in chapter 1, and the historically evolving approaches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, this chapter both examines additional components of the ethnographic toolkit as they are put to use by contemporary ethnographic drug researchers and the roles these methods have come to play in multimethod and multisited studies of drug-related behavior. Further, as a consequence of ethnography’s demonstrated utility in...

  10. 7 Career Paths in Drug-related Ethnography: From Falling to Calling
    (pp. 133-148)

    Who becomes a drug use ethnographer? Why pursue this vocational path? What are the special appeals and distinctive burdens of this line of professional work? This chapter addresses these questions by reviewing findings from a study conducted by Singer, Page, and Melissa Houle of changing patterns in the development of anthropological careers in drug research.

    In the past, the road to such a career was rarely a straight line leading from a carefully thought out decision to an established training program, and from there to professional involvement in the field. Recalling his own pathway into a drug research career, Michael...

  11. 8 Gender and Drug Use: Drug Ethnography by Women about Women
    (pp. 149-161)

    Among anthropologists and sociologists, gender has become an increasingly important topic as gender roles in Western societies have undergone transformation. Androcentric interpretations of early twentieth-century anthropologists’ ethnographic data, in which women’s roles were either underreported or ignored altogether (e.g., Lamphere 2006) gave way in the 1970s and beyond to feminist interpretations that weighted women’s roles more equitably in the same societies studied during the emergent era of ethnographic fieldwork by Bronislaw Malinowski and E. E. Evans-Pritchard. Beginning in the late 1960s, anthropologists’ studies of subsistence and other activities in highly varied cultural contexts contributed fine-grained analyses of gender roles in...

  12. 9 The Future of Drug Ethnography as Reflected in Recent Developments
    (pp. 162-184)

    The use of drugs by human beings is a quintessentially anthropological topic of study because it directly connects diverse aspects of the human condition, from internal emotional states to the global political economy, and from intense religious experience to adventurist pleasure-seeking. Given its complexity, and its concurrent expression on multiple levels (individual, familial, communal, national, global), drug use requires a perspective that is committed to holistic understanding—one that tries to see the forest (macro-level) and the trees (micro-level) simultaneously and in interaction. Certainly, aspects of drug use among humans are most productively explored by focused approaches, such as disciplines...

    (pp. 185-190)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 191-192)
    (pp. 193-222)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 223-225)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 226-227)