In the Journals

Ethnographies of addiction in Cultural Anthropology

The latest edition of Cultural Anthropology is available online, and I’m very pleased to see a special section called “Drug Ethnographies.” While there are only two articles in this section, both promise to be very interesting to social scientists working on addiction. One is an essay co-authored by Nancy Campbell (whose work I’ve recently discussed here) and Susan Shaw of the University of Arizona on drug ethnography and its relationship to HIV-prevention projects and the harm reduction model. The second piece, “The Elegaic Addict: History, Chronicity and the Melancholic Subject,” is by Angela Garcia of UC Irvine. Angela presented an earlier version of this essay at the AAA conference last year as part of a panel I organized with Will Garriott, so I know that this is a very strong article, both analytically original and affecting in a way that the best ethnography can be. I’ll just reproduce the abstract here:

In biomedical and public health discourses, “chronicity” has emerged as the prevailing model to understanding drug addiction and addictive experience. This approach is predicated on constructing and responding to addictive experience in ways that underscore its presumed lifelong nature. In this essay, I examine the phenomenon of heroin addiction and heroin overdose in northern New Mexico’s Española Valley, which suffers the highest rate of heroin-induced death in the United States, and explore how the logic of chronicity is dangerously reworked through the Hispano ethos of endless suffering. Focusing on the narrative of Alma, a Hispana heroin addict who died of an overdose after many previous overdoses, I evoke a sense of the physical, historical, and institutional refrains in which she felt herself caught. By tracing Alma’s death back to these refrains, I describe the complex of entanglements in which her addiction took form and show how the discourse of chronicity provided a structure for her suffering and, ultimately, her death. (Garcia 2008).

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