Call for papers: Border constructions and crossings in the anthropology of psychoactive substances


American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting

San Francisco, CA, November 14-18, 2012

Drug (Ab)use:

Border constructions and crossings in the anthropology of psychoactive substances


Co-organizers: Tazin Karim, Roland Moore, Gilbert Quintero, Lee Hoffer, and Daniel Lende on behalf of the Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Study Group of the Society for Medical Anthropology

This panel invites papers that explore the ideological, legal, and physical borders between sanctioned and illicit drug use through ethnography. We argue that the examination of drug behaviors is particularly salient to anthropology because they traverse and influence many culturally constructed boundaries between work/play, ethical/unethical, mind/body, etc. In particular, the recent development and repurposing of certain psychoactive substances has acted to blur the lines between recreation, medication, addiction, and enhancement. Street drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics are now being reconceptualized as treatments, while prescription stimulants and narcotics continue to become objects of misuse and abuse. Changing prescription practices and the growth of new grey markets further obscure the space between acceptable and improper drug use behaviors.

This panel explicitly asks: what criteria do individuals, populations, and governments use to define appropriate use of these substances?  How do substances move within the space between what is acceptable/useful and what is illegal/immoral? In what ways do these values influence access and encourage behaviors necessary to navigate these new borders? How do these beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors construct cultural configurations of health, agency, and identity?

This panel also seeks to shed light on the experience of drug ethnographers as they trace the social lives of drugs through various cycles. How do we as anthropologists and researchers understand and traverse these borders ourselves? How does this influence our interactions with subjects, law enforcement, policy makers and health professionals? In what ways does this influence the overall quality and content of drug ethnography?

Topics might include:

  • Drug free zones and trafficking across local/global borders
  • Online pharmacies/grey markets
  • Changing prescription practices
  • E-cigarettes, nicotine patches, etc.
  • Prescription drugs v. recreational drugs
  • Legalization of marijuana or psychedelics
  • Prescription drugs as enhancers
  • Drug ethnography and research

Please send titles and 250 word abstracts to: Tazin Karim (

DEADLINE: February 26, 2012

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