The Role of Drug History in Interdisciplinary Study

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Leanne Horinko, the interim director of the office of graduate admissions at Drew University’s Casperson School of Graduate Studies. Enjoy!

As academic history continues to expand, incorporating interdisciplinarity and meeting the needs of public history, areas of history previously overlooked by scholars are becoming new spaces for exploration. Counter-cultural history is no exception. Scholarly inquiry of these new interdisciplinary subjects can lead to interesting challenges in understanding the subject matter without sacrificing academic rigor. Those interested in contributing original research to interdisciplinary fields like counter-cultural history or alcohol and drug history can find themselves neck deep in historiography from multiple fields and trying to piece together a framework for their work. These challenges are perhaps best illustrated in my own research.

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Harry Gene Levine: Joseph R. Gusfield and the Multiple Perspectives of Cubist Sociology

Note from Ron:  Here is another tribute to the late Joe Gusfield, authored by Harry Gene Levine.  It circulated via email among some of us old-guard alcohol and drug history types a few days ago.  And, when I asked him, Harry was kind enough grant permission it be published at Points. The italicized first paragraph, below the Picasso image, offers Harry’s suggested introductory words for the piece.  I’m also going to take the liberty of adding, as a comment, below, my response to it when it was sent around by email.  I really like this piece.  Thank you, Harry!

Picasso's Guernica
Picasso’s Guernica

In 2000 I was invited to join a panel at the meetings of the Law and Society Association devoted to Joe Gusfield and his book Symbolic Crusade.  I wrote a four page presentation, only slightly tongue-in-cheek.  Since hearing of his death I have been thinking about him a lot and dug up the paper. It’s kind of sweet.    — H.G.L.

Joseph R. Gusfield’s book, Symbolic Crusade, discusses the temperance movement in America history. I too have studied the American temperance movement and would like to begin with a brief description of the temperance and prohibition crusade that I didn’t write but wish I could have: the first paragraph of Symbolic Crusade.

For many observers of American life, the temperance movement is evidence for an excessive moral perfectionism and an overly legalistic bent to American culture. It seems the action of devoted sectarians who are unable to compromise with human impulse. The legal measures taken to enforce abstinence display the reputed American faith in the power of Law to correct all evils. This moralism and utopianism bring smiles to the cynical and fear to the sinner. Such a movement seems at once naive, intolerant, saintly and silly.

One of the difficulties of writing like that is that it involves discussing so many things at one time. Every sentence in that paragraph talks about the American temperance movement, and about topics other than the temperance movement. I propose that double or triple focus is part of Gusfield’s intellectual genius. For many years I could not even recognize that Joe was focusing on several things at once. I myself am often unable to see even one thing at a time. At first I usually only see part of one thing. Then, like Columbo, the rumpled detective played by Peter Falk, I return scratching my head, thumbing through my notes, and asking again about something that still confuses me.

I’ve been reading Gusfield’s books and articles for twenty-five years trying to understand how he produces his distinctive intellectual, emotional and perceptual effects on the page and in the reader. I would like to report a few things I have figured out about Joseph R. Gusfield’s sociology.    

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“This Is Your Brain on Drugs”: Teaching Drug History

About midway through the semester last fall my department asked me if I wanted to teach my own course in the spring. My dissertation was basically complete and, since I wasn’t going on the academic job market this year, I felt that I had the time to dedicate to what I knew would be a …

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Call for Authors — Alcohol: Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives

SAGE Reference is seeking authors for some of the 550 entries in a new work entitled Alcohol: Social, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives, which seeks to go beyond the United States and beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to examine alcohol as a cultural and social phenomenon dating to the earliest days of humankind. This comprehensive project, edited by Scott …

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Dispatches from London: “Under Control?” Conference

This past weekend alcohol and drug scholars across the globe descended upon London’s School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to learn from each other about what they know best, alcohol and drugs.  The interdisciplinary conference does much to encourage scholarship across lines of disciplinary specializations, but also, the nation-state.  Below please find assorted notes from my time abroad:

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Perhaps most noted for his work Andean Cocaine, Paul Gootenberg gave a keynote speech addressing the concept of blowback.  Entitled “Controlling Cocaine?  1900-2000,” Gootenberg began with what might be considered an obvious truth for drug historians—that is, that if read from an historical perspective, the term “drug control” is an oxymoron.  Throughout the 20th century, drug control often perpetuates the antithesis of control.  Drug control efforts by the United States have bred more chaos, more illicit trade, more use, and worst of all, more violence.  In supporting his claim, Gootenberg examined the ways in which United States efforts to control the global supply of cocaine produced various unintended consequences.

Originally an economic historian by trade, Gootenberg makes good use of global commodity chains to explain the story of cocaine and attempts at its control.  In framing the long history of cocaine commodity chains and blowback, Gootenberg broke down the century into several distinct phases, each with specific unintended consequences.  In the first forty years of the 20th century, particularly after 1914, the United States attempted to push anti-cocaine measures onto the international agenda.  During this period, Andean trafficking in cocaine remained relatively benign, marginal, and nonviolent.  Between 1948 and 1973, cocaine came to be increasingly criminalized as illicit networks began to shift outward from the Andean region in response to FBN attempts to crush production in the region.  A pivotal moment in cocaine commodity chain development passed in 1960 when traffickers were exiled under the Cuban Revolution.  These exiled traffickers quickly became a Pan-American Network of traffickers, thereby expanding the commodity network for cocaine traffic.  Still though, Gootenberg carefully noted, the trade remained small and fairly peaceful through 1970. 

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Conferenece Report: Cannabis Roots: The Hidden History of Marijuana

Editor’s Note: Guest Blogger Chris Bennet takes us inside the Cannabis Roots Conference held this November in Vancouver, Canada — complete with video from each session!

When thinking of the history of marijuana, most people’s minds go back to the hippy era of the 60s and the pot smoking flower-children whose peace and love ideals have forever changed our culture. Some might even dig a little deeper,  recalling the 1930’s Reefer Madness era, where blacks and whites shared ‘marihuana cigarettes’ at tea houses while creating a new genre of music and breaking long-held racial barriers. However, few people realize that cannabis has played a role in human history for at least tens of thousand years, or that even thousands of years ago, its use as a medicine and inebriant was known and reached from the Russian Steppes to China, India, Greece, the Middle East, Central Europe and other areas of the Old World.  Indeed, even in ancient times, as today, it was a prominent item of trade, and it influenced these cultures in a variety of ways, just as it does for better or worse in our own. The Cannabis Roots conference explored and discussed this area of cannabis history with some of the top experts in the world.

Held November 3rd, 2012 in Canada’s Vancouver, British Columbia, Cannabis Culture Vapor Lounge, which also hosts the incredible collection of drug artifacts housed in ‘The Herb Museum,’ this one day event took place in what might be considered a ‘relaxed’ environment. Attended by about 70 people, it was also streamed live. The lectures are archived and provided in this article.

The event brought together a number of academics and authors who have written about the topic, and they all provided entertaining accounts of cannabis’ fascinating role and potential role in a number of areas of world history.

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Are drug ethnographies necessary?

Several semesters ago, I taught an interdisciplinary course called Addiction in History, Science, and Culture. I had a wonderful group of undergrads, and they often posed questions that have troubled researchers across these fields for decades. A favorite question is the topic of this post: What is the point of ethnographic research? Didn’t we learn all we can from addiction ethnographies in the 1970s?

By the 1970s, we had learned quite a lot. Canonical qualitative research on drug cultures by Alfred Lindsmith, Bingham Dai, and Howard Becker was on paper before the heroin epidemics of the late 1960s and early 1970s hit. In the US and UK, those epidemics linked ethnography to epidemiology; community-based surveillance teams began to monitor drug using behaviors as though they were contagious diseases. The approach proved useful in the 1980s when injection drug use was found to be associated with transmission of a famously epidemic disease—HIV. Ethnographers, activists, and ex-addict outreach workers tapped into previous knowledge about networks of illicit drug users in order to communicate evidence-based preventive strategies (such as needle sterilization) that later became known as “harm reduction.”

Street Ethnographies, circa 1979

By the 1990s, harm reduction, though contentious, became the dominant paradigm in which ethnographic research on “under-studied” populations of illicit drug users was conducted. Nancy Campbell and Susan Shaw have suggested that state-funded ethnographic research today functions more like a modest public health intervention into the lives of drug-users than a source of new knowledge. In fact, they argue, the incitement to harm reduction could actually impede the exchange of information that runs contrary to the dominant paradigm. And the ethics of the interactions between researchers and drug-using study participants are tricky to begin with.

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Report on the University of Michigan Meeting on “Sex/Gender and Psychoactive Substances”

Longtime Points readers no doubt know that one of the blog’s founding interests lies in bridging (or breaching) the institutional, material, and conceptual boundaries that separate historians from on the one hand, policy/public health folks and, on the other, “brain scientists” and their ilk.  Joe Gabriel blogged about the difficulties of this project in an early post, and some of the tensions involved in the project were discussed in last winter’s symposium on David Courtwright’s recent article on “Addiction and the Science of History,” the last piece of which you can find here, with links back to the five installments. As a small group blog, Points is limited in what it can do about this silo-ing problem– we can point it out, and we can provide a venue for work that attempts to address it, but (apologies to all the technological utopians out there) we lack the institutional muscle necessary to really change the structures of knowledge production.

Fortunately for those of us who still hold out revolutionary hope for genuine inter- or cross-disciplinary work, somebody out there does seem to have such muscle and, equally important, the will to put it to good use.  Even better, Points editors Nancy Campbell, Michelle McClellan, and Trysh Travis have gotten hooked in with them.  We participated a couple of weeks ago in a small working conference on Sex/Gender and Psychoactive Substances, sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center and its Center for Advancing Research and Solutions for Society, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and School of Social Work.

U. Michigan Working Conference

Along with about fifteen other researchers from a wide range of disciplines (full list of participants below), we talked quite candidly about the conceptual assumptions of our various disciplines, our institutions’ demands for certain “outputs” and “deliverables,” and our combined interest in and skepticism about one another’s research.   The conversation was structured around the topics of normative drug use, problem drug use, recovery and relapse, and we considered what we know and don’t know about these topics, as well as current controversies in the field and how they might be addressed by research, clinical practice and policy.  There was very little showboating, and a lot of genuine conversation and learning.

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