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Table of Contents
Drugs and Culture: New Perspectives
with chapter summaries
by Beatriz Caiuby Labate1, Maurício Fiore2 and Sandra Lucia Goulart3
Translated from Portuguese by Glenn Shepard, Revised by Clancy Cavnar
v2.0 - Sep 10, 2011
Original text in Drogas e Cultura: Novas Perspectivas, 2008
Citation:   Labate BC, Fiore M, Goulart SL. "Table of Contents with Chapter Summaries, Drugs and Culture: New Perspectives". Original in Portguese in: Labate BC, Goulart S, Fiore M, et al., (Eds). Drogas e Cultura: Novas Perspectivas (2008). Sep 9 2011. Online edition in English:
Drogas e Cultura: Novas Perspectivas was supported in part by the Brazilian Ministry of Culture and edited by researchers of the Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Studies on Psychoactives (NEIP). Read the book's introduction (English).

Drugs and Culture: New Perspectives
Originally published as Drogas e Cultura, Novas Perspectivas (Salvador: Edufba, 2008)

Edited by

Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Maurício Fiore, Sandra Goulart,
Edward MacRae and Henrique Carneiro

Table of Contents:
Jacket text:
Luiz Eduardo Soares

Gilberto Gil and Juca Ferreira

Julio Simões

Beatriz Labate, Maurício Fiore and Sandra Goulart

English translations:
Glenn H. Shepard Jr.
Revision Clancy Cavnar

Part 1 - The History of Drug Consumption and Prohibition in the West
Chapter 1: "Pharmaceuticals and Other Socio-Technological Objects: Notes on a Genealogy of Drugs"
Eduardo Viana Vargas, Dept. Anthropology, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG); NEIP.

This chapter proposes a genealogy of drugs as socio-technical objects that can only be understood relationally, rather than according to some fundamental essential qualities. Taken in this light, the history of drugs is not separate from the history of pharmaceutical medicines, food-as-medicine, and the fascination with spices that structured early Western encounters with the Orient. The chapter questions the moral separation between drugs and pharmaceuticals that began in the 20th century, creating a boundary between illicit and licit substances, between poison and medicine. This division is a product of an apparatus associated with drugs similar to that which Foucault recognized in the realm of sexuality: More than just appropriating the experience of drug consumption, modern society has literally created the phenomenon of drugs through a double process of pharmaceutical invasion and criminalization of drugs that are thus made illicit.

Chapter 2: "Autonomy and Heteronomy in Altered States of Consciousness"
Henrique Carneiro, Dept. History, Universidade de São Paulo (USP); NEIP.

Drugs are products with historically defined definitions and boundaries. In the general realm of material culture, their meanings are limited by and interconnected with the spheres of food, drink, and spices. Their effects, not limited to the pharmacological, have developed multiple meanings across a broad range of realms with diverse consequences in the history of medical, economic, political, moral, and symbolic concepts about drugs. The use of psychoactive drugs results in a growing plasticity of human subjectivity that is reflected in diverse technical means of altering perception, cognition, and affect or humor. This chapter focuses on contemporary historical transformations of techniques for intervening in subjectivity, which have become ever more flexible through multiple possibilities of expression. At the same time, they have become imprisoned by the conditioning technologies, as the barrier between psychic autonomy and heteronomy is subjected to greater narrowing, vigilance, and transgression.

Chapter 3: "Drug Trafficking, War and Prohibition"
Thiago Rodrigues, Department of Political Sciences, Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF); Nu-Sol/PUC-SP.NEIP.

Today, there is a large group of prohibited psychoactive drugs. About a hundred years ago, the first international treaties regulating some psychoactive substances and banning others were signed. However, drug prohibition is more than a diplomatic and legal phenomenon. Rather, it is juxtaposed on and articulated with certain specific domains. In the moral domain, we encounter the puritanical basis for condemning drugs and altered states of consciousness that led to the emergence of drug and alcohol prohibition. In the medical-sanitary domain, the state joins forces with medicine to justify its control or prohibition of some drugs in the name of public and personal health. The domain of public safety emerges as state prohibition results in the emergence of illegal practices and illicit markets that have grown throughout the 20th century until they entered the transnational, geopolitical domain. At this point, prohibitionism enters the final domain of national security with the so-called "war on drugs." Many recognize that the war on drugs has failed, since the goals of eradicating drugs and drug-using habits have not been met. All domains engaged in this war have opened potent arenas for political intervention into individual behavior, organized crime groups, and entire nations considered as "drug-producing countries" and hence as targets for economic pressure and diplomatic or military intervention. Studying the history of prohibition from the perspective of politics means understanding that fairly successful tactics of control and subjugation could, in turn, be applied towards developing counter-tactics of resistance.

Chapter 4: "Brazilian Law 11.343/06 and the Recurring Harms of Prohibitionism"
Maria Lucia Karam, retired judge; Board of Directors of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).

The criminalization of raw materials and conduct associated with producing, distributing, and consuming certain psychoactive substances which, by virtue of prohibition, are considered illicit, is one of the main drivers of the current expansion of state punitive powers. United Nations conventions and diverse sovereign laws of various nations, including the 2006 law in Brazil covered in this chapter, stand out for their systematic violation of basic norms and principles guaranteeing fundamental rights found in universal declarations and democratic constitutions.

Part 2 - The Use of Drugs as a Cultural Phenomenon
Chapter 5: "Psychoactive Consumption as a Field of Research and Political Activity: An interview with Gilberto Velho"
Maurício Fiore, Ph.D. candidate in Social Sciences, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP); CEBRAP; NEIP.

In this interview, carried out on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the publication of his pioneering study of drug consumption in the Brazilian middle class, anthropologist Gilberto Velho discourses on the motivations and obstacles that lead him to study behavior considered socially deviant. Evaluating his own professional journey, full of important figures like the American sociologist Howard Becker, Velho discusses the importance of studying the phenomenon of psychoactive drug use according to its various facets (philosophical, ethical, aesthetic, political, etc.). He defends this kind of research activity as fundamental for social sciences. He also applies his findings and research experience to question the mechanisms of drug criminalization, pointing out the many deleterious consequences.

Chapter 6: "Pleasure and Risk: A Discussion Concerning Medical Knowledge about 'Drug' Use"
Maurício Fiore, Ph.D. candidate in Social Sciences, Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP); CEBRAP; NEIP.

This chapter discusses the participation of medical knowledge in the public debates about drug use by means of two categories considered fundamental: pleasure and risk. The analysis is based on prior research into how medical controversies are established in the public debate, and departs from the Foucauldian notion of "positivity"; namely, that medical knowledge should be understood according to its role as a creator and organizer of discourses and practices that define what is normal and what is pathological. The recognition that drug use brings pleasure is only an apparent consensus, since there are controversies regarding the nature and qualification of this pleasure. To classify the pleasures of drug use, medical knowledge makes use of attributes like artificiality and illusion, thus imposing limits on the human experience of psychoactive substances. The same happens with the notion of risk, central to the social organization of modern societies. However when applied to drug use, the concept of risk usually conceals its powerful political consequences. As a calculation based on assessing future probabilities, risk assumes a priori definitions of that which should be avoided: dependency, disease, and crime, and of the variables which are intended to brought under control: poverty, youth, and drug use itself.

Chapter 7: "From the Natural to the Social: Substances in a Stable Medium"
Stelio Marras, Institute of Brazilian Studies (IEB), Universidade de São Paulo (USP); NEIP.

As an experiment in reflexivity, this chapter attempts to situate the collection of texts in this book within the broader backdrop of contemporary intellectual currents, specifically science studies after Bruno Latour. The problems and conceptualization of illicit drugs are situated in a comparative perspective, suggesting debates that permit a new approach to the topic. This critical examination includes questions surrounding the production of illegal drugs, and the role of scientific research in eliminating the placebo effect and the power of suggestion.

Part 3 - The Use of Drugs: Cultural Diversity in Perspective
Chapter 8: "Wine: A Mediterranean Drug"
Norberto Guarinello, Dept. History, Universidade de São Paulo (USP).

For millennia, wine has been, and remains, a fundamental aspect of social life among populations located around the Mediterranean Sea. This chapter traces the history of the invention and diffusion of this intoxicating beverage and analyzes the different social contexts of its production and consumption in ancient city-states of the Classic era.

Chapter 9: "Use and Abuse of Alcoholic Beverages: Indigenous Perspectives from the Uašá River"
Laércio Fidelis Dias, Doctor of Social Anthropology, Universidade de São Paulo (USP); NEIP.

This chapter, drawing on ethnographic observations among the Karipuna and Galibi-Marworno peoples of the Uašá River region in northern Amapá, Brazil, reflects on the meanings of alcoholic beverage consumption among indigenous groups. It is firmly established in the anthropological literature that wherever alcoholic beverages are available, their consumption comes to define the social world in terms of symbolic meanings. All alcoholic beverages are symbolic vehicles that carry messages identifying, discriminating, constructing, and manipulating social systems, values, interpersonal relations, and behavioral norms or expectations. Drawing on ambivalent indigenous notions of excess, this chapter argues that labeling certain patterns of consumption as "undesirable" is not necessarily tied to the quantity consumed. Rather, consumption can be viewed as culturally acceptable or unacceptable: It is the context, rather than the sheer quantity, that determines if drinking is excessive, and what value judgments it invokes.

Chapter 10: "Caium - Substance and Effect: On the Consumption of Fermented Beverages among Amerindians"
Renato Sztutman, Dept. Anthropology, Universidade de São Paulo (USP); NEIP.

This chapter relates meanings of drunkenness among indigenous peoples of lowland South America with their understandings of the nature of the substances found in their fermented beverages. I have concentrated on ethnographic data collected among speakers of Tupi-Guarani languages, both in historical (16th-17th centuries) and recent times. I will not focus on the purely pharmacological or chemical aspects of Amerindian fermented beverages, nor on descriptions of the contexts ("set") in which they are used, nor again do I attempt a psychological description of the effects of these beverages based on Western definitions of the subject. Instead, I try to understand a kind of indigenous theory about fermented beverages and their consequent effects on human agency, and more generally, about modes of conceiving humanity and the world.

Chapter 11: "The Stigma of Ayahuasca Groups"
Sandra Goulart, Dept. of Cultural Studies, Faculdade Cásper Líbero; NEIP.

This chapter concerns religious groups in Brazil that use the psychoactive beverage known as ayahuasca, vegetal or daime. It analyzes transformations of the popular images surrounding, and social stigmas suffered by, these groups from their origins in the early to mid-20th century through the present. The main argument is that, while associations with black magic and charlatanism predominated in the early years, more recent criticisms and stigma have been associated with their consumption of "drugs" or "toxic substances."

Chapter 12: "The Development of Brazilian Public Policies on the Religious use of Ayahuasca"
Edward MacRae, Dept. Anthropology, Universidade Federal da Bahia (UFBA); CETAD; NEIP.

This chapter draws comparisons between attempts at "scientific control" of Afro-Brazilian religion in the early twentieth century with current political processes related to contemporary ayahuasca religions. A number of similarities between the two processes are highlighted, including the role played by doctors and anthropologists sympathetic to religious trance and possession (in the case of Afro-Brazilian religion) and to shamanic flight (in the case of ayahuasca religion). The chapter concludes that although dominant biomedical discourses have shaped popular understandings of ayahuasca religions until recently, the broader socio-cultural critique articulated by anthropology is steadily gaining ground.

Chapter 13: "The Urban Expansion of Kampo (Phyllomedusa bicolor): Ethnographic Notes"
Edilene Coffaci de Lima, Dept. Anthropology, Universidade Federal do Paraná
Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Institute of Medical Psychology, Heidelberg University; NEIP.

The use of secretions from the frog Phyllomedusa bicolor, known locally as kampo or kampu, as a stimulant and hunting tonic by indigenous peoples of the Juruá River was first documented over 80 years ago by the Spiritan missionary Constantin Tastevin. In recent years, use of this traditional tonic has expanded to urban areas of Brazil, gaining new meanings. The Katukina Indians of the Juruá have been central to developing these new forms of use, whether as subjects of journalistic reports, as speakers at shamanic conferences or as kampo dispensers at alternative therapy clinics. Thus the Katukina are central to understanding these recent re-significations. This chapter presents a preliminary ethnography of the diffusion of kampo by Katukina protagonists, focusing on the discourses they and their urban counterparts have produced about this "indigenous medicine." A very special medicine indeed, since according to various materials used to advertise kampo, the substance is used traditionally to eliminate bad luck, particularly bad luck at hunting (panama), as well as to dispel "envy, weakness, and lack of harmony with nature," among other claims.

Chapter 14: "The Vices of Eating Coca and Drunkenness in the Andean World of Guaman Poma"
Alexandre Camera Varella. Ph.D. Candidate, Dept. History, Universidade de São Paulo (USP); NEIP.

Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala lived from 1550 to 1620 in the central regions of Spanish colonial Peru. A "ladino" (i.e. a Quechua-speaking Indian who also spoke and wrote Spanish), he proclaimed himself a prince in a treatise addressed to King Phillip III of Spain demanding reforms in colonial governance and denouncing a "backward world" of chaos and abuses against native peasant populations. In Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno ("First Chronicle and Good Government"), Guaman Poma presents important ethno-historical accounts of the use of coca leaf and the fermented corn beverage, chicha, in the Andean world. He also reconstructs pre-Colombian history and pronounces his own judgments. For example, Guaman Poma claims that in ancient times, drunkenness was innocent and did not lead to addictive behavior. Although he blames the Incas for introducing idolatry and sorcery, associated with drunkenness and the origins of coca use, he also recognizes that under Incan reign, drunks and their crimes were punished severely. In colonial times, both primordial innocence and strict Incan controls surrounding drunkenness were lost, leading to social chaos. Guman Poma's political project, then, was to draw on this pre-Columbian past to imagine Christian moral reform and indigenous self-governance as a way to counteract the disruptive drunkenness and social promiscuity of colonial times.

Chapter 15: "Ethics, Reform and Plant Wisdom: Coca as Master Plant"
Anthony Henman, Independent Researcher with Fundación Plantas Maestras, Lima; NEIP.

The indigenous notion that psychoactive plants can teach us truths provides a doorway into a new ethical attitude. Rather than assuming fear and repression, this new attitude should assume the individual autonomy and responsibility of those who seek wisdom through plants and their derivatives.

Chapter 16: "Existential Landscapes and Pragmatic Alchemy: A Comparative Reflection on Drug Use in the 1960s Counterculture Movement and the Contemporary Rave Scene"
Maria Isabel Mendes de Almeida, Dept. Sociology and Political Science, Pontifica Universidade Católica, Río de Janeiro; coordinator CESAP/UCAM;
Fernanda Eugenio, Doctor in Social Anthropology Museu Nacional/UFRJ; researcher with CESAP/UCAM.

For the past few years, we have been studying the articulation between the contemporary electronic music scene and the consumption of synthetic psychoactives by middle-class youths. As a result of this research, we have recognized the importance of establishing a cross-generational comparative perspective by examining psychoactive use in the 1960s counterculture movement. We believe that this approach can contribute to an ongoing process that is redefining values, practices, and subjective involvements associated with drug consumption. We focus on relations of rupture and continuity between these two youth generations, relying on the following axes of analysis: stylization of lifestyles; horizontality vs. verticality in consumption; drugs as political rebellious ideology or as resource to maximize entertainment and well-being; cultivation of subjectivities and the pharmacological production of the self in order to aid existential exploration and to be "fuel to action." We distance ourselves from alarmist diagnoses pointing towards an ideological vacuity in contemporary youth culture, and suggest instead that their use of these substances provides a strategic vantage point for reflecting broadly on subjective transformations that are underway, and for developing models to understand the construction of the self through consumption as a form of active bodily intervention. By managing various simultaneous arenas of consumption, today's youth transit through multiple realities, investing them with an instrumentality that is specific to each occasion and context. In other words, if drug consumption in the 1960s counterculture was enacted within an existential or political project, for contemporary youth it is just one more form of consumption among many others, all competing in the quest to build a kind of permanent, aseptic state of well-being. Different occasions operate like filters providing both the agenda for how well-being is defined, as well as what must be consumed to attain it. Well-being thus understood is situational, and thus corresponds with changing modes of consuming and signifying consumption.

Chapter 17: "The Use of the Body in Electronic Music Festivals"
Tiago Coutinho Cavalcante, Ph.D. Candidate in Social Anthropology, Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ); NEIP.

This chapter presents ethnographic data collected during two years of fieldwork at electronic music festivals. The body is the guiding concept throughout the analysis, since the body is the central site in the dynamic structure of these festivals. It is by using the body that participants attain the expected state of ecstasy: a kind of "sense play" that works with different sense modes to harmonize and render intelligible and palpable the symbolic elements highlighting the experiential character of the event. Location and decoration work toward the visual stimulation of the participant, while the consumption of psychoactives orders and heightens sense experiences, connecting elements that would otherwise seem incompatible in the play of senses and perceptions. This special use of the body coincides with modern tendencies that promote individualism and expand the logic of capitalism in the context of youth festivals.

Revision History #
  • v1.0 - 2008 - Labate, Fiore, Goulart, et al. - Portuguese text published in Drogas e Cultura: Novas Perspectivas.
  • v2.0 - Sep 10 2011 - Erowid - Chapter summaries written or compiled from authors by Labate, translation by Shepard and Cavnar.