Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic Research at the Social Margins

Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic Research at the Social Margins

Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic Research at the Social Margins

Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic Research at the Social Margins

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

We had been talking at breakfast (June 2007, while participating in a workshop for young scholars on the scientific study of drug use) about the literature’s lack of any books on the ethnography of drug use. There was a book by a nonresearcher that had gone out of print three years prior, but no bona fide drug researcher had ever attempted a book treatment of the field of ethnographic drug research, even though the field had burgeoned during the last three decades. As we listened to our colleagues’ presentations, we put together an outline of what such a book would look like and agreed to flesh it out into a book proposal. We knew that the book should emphasize several points: (1) ethnographic approaches contribute important formative information about personal behavior; (2) ethnographic approaches provide key content for use by efforts (e.g., surveys) to obtain quantitative data on the personal behaviors of a population; (3) ethnographic approaches enhance the findings of surveys through delineation of cultural process; (4) the narratives produced by ethnographic interviews underscore the humanity of drug users; and (5) the ethnographic perspective points out key flaws in the larger society’s policies to “control” drug use, suggesting strategies for reforming a system that fails to accomplish its objectives.

Our personal need for a textbook that accomplished these objectives directed much of our early conversation about this project. Nevertheless, we also see the book as a resource for those who think about and form policy on drug use and for those who try to treat impaired drug users.

The book that we have written devotes most of its space to consideration of how people go about using drugs that are disapproved by the larger society, acknowledging that ethnographies of alcohol and tobacco use could have occupied a more prominent place in our presentation. We made this choice in order to focus on the implications for society of imposing prohibition on some drugs and not others (see aim 5 above), although we recognize that the solution to the total problem of drug use must include legal drugs. Indeed, as time goes by, tobacco incurs increasing public outrage over its toll in human lives, rendering it every day more analogous to the illegal drugs that we study ethnographically. Our presentation tilts in the direction of illegal drugs also because of the . . .

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