Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.: he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.
As an historian of the Crack Era, I am more often than not engaging the work of sociologists, anthropologists and criminologists that have treated the drug trade and the hyper-policed urban communities I study. While young graduate students and early career PhD’s are poised to properly historicize the period in years to come, those looking to teach the period right now need to be both creative and interdisciplinary. In the main, my own work and teaching often draws a great deal from ethnographies of the drug trade. This got me thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of said work, and a bit frustrated at the paucity of interdisciplinary and collaborative work on the subject. In many respects, the work of ethnographers and historians are inherently complimentary. Students and scholars benefit from cross-pollination in this vein as it provides a more nuanced, holistic, and humanized treatment of a long-standing, highly complicated, vexing social problem.
The first drug ethnography ever handed to me was In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio by Philippe Bourgois. The work re-affirmed my commitment to my field of study and convinced me of what I already suspected. Most poor young men and women involved in the drug trade—directly or indirectly—are rational economic actors that very much aspire to basic tenets of the “American Dream.” Many of the boys, girls, men and women populating the pages of In Search of Respect idealize and work towards establishing a traditional nuclear family, steady jobs, and security. Moreover, those in reckless pursuit of fast money and subsequently engaged in conspicuous consumption can hardly be castigated as outliers of the 1980s.
Ethnography provides qualitative insights that are often hard to replicate in strictly historical work beyond the exception of oral histories. Productive discussions followed in my own class on the Crack Era after a student asked why police repeatedly assumed Bourgois was an out-of-towner looking to cop. His apparent white skin and learned affect provided a window into the shortcuts police take when perusing districts disproportionately effected by the drug trade. Moreover, the disparate treatment of Bourgois and other subjects by police highlighted the ways in which race, class, and place all effect policing tactics and the likelihood of arrest and prosecution.Read More »
ED. NOTE: Long-time Points readers may remember our Fiction Points series from its first appearance way back in 2013. Fiction Points consists of interviews with contemporary authors whose writing often features drugs and/or alcohol. Having discovered new authors in the last two years, Fiction Points curator Amy Long wanted to bring back the series. Read more about the aims and historical significance of our Fiction Points series in Long and Managing Editor Emeritus Eoin Cannon’s introductory post to the first Fiction Points.
We begin the series with Stephen Elliott. Stay tuned for interviews with Brian Alan Ellis, Juliet Escoria, Maria Flook, Dagoberto Gilb, Leslie Jamison, and Kevin Maloney. New Fiction Points posts will appear every Tuesday for the next six weeks.
Stephen Elliott, founder of the online literary magazine The Rumpus and currently Senior Editor for Epic Magazine, is the author of seven books: the novels Happy Baby (2004), What it Means to Love You (2002), A Life Without Consequences (2001), and Jones Inn (1998); the erotic short-story collection My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up (2006); and the nonfiction works Looking Forward to It: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About It and Love the American Electoral Process (2004), based on his time on the 2004 campaign trail, and The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder (2009). He edited the collections Sex for America: Politically Inspired Erotica (2003) and, with Greg Larson, Stumbling and Raging: More Politically Inspired Fiction (2005). A film adaptation of The Adderall Diaries premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2015. Elliott has directed two movies himself: About Cherry (2012) and an adaptation of Happy Baby, expected to release this year. His work has appeared in publications such as Esquire, The New York Times, The Believer, GQ, Best American Erotica, Best American Sex Writing, and the Best American Non-Required Reading anthologies for 2005 and 2007. Elliott holds a Master’s degree in film production from Northwestern University and was a 2001 Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, during which time he also served as Stanford’s Marsh McCall Lecturer in Creative Writing. He lives in Brooklyn.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
This question doesn’t make any sense. Why would I tell them I’m a writer? Why would they approach me at a bar? I tell them I don’t talk to penguins. I haven’t spoken with penguins in a long time and I intend to keep it that way. I say I write about “stuff”. Or, more likely, I try to find out what they do, who taught them to talk. Are they real penguins or just butlers who look like penguins. I’m the least interesting person there; I would try to keep the conversation about them and their history and concerns.Read More »
This past weekend, the Alcohol and Drug History Society met for its biennial conference at Bowling Green State University. While preparing for my presentation, “(Insert Addiction Here): Twelve-Step Recovery and the Advent of the Addictive Personality,” I spent a lot of time thinking about the growth of the recovery movement since Alcoholics Anonymous. I noticed that by the 1970s several similarly “Anonymous” groups had been established throughout the country, but what really struck me was the number of process or behavioral addictions covered under their auspices. I dubbed the contemporary state of lay and expert addiction theory a “big tent,” since it invited virtually all comers from heroin addicts to compulsive gamblers and overeaters. I thought the shorthand would work for convenience and its clear imagery.
Editor’s Note: Today three of our contributing editors – Michelle McClellan, Adam Rathge and Sarah Siff – present their thoughts on the recent international conference of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, which was held from June 18 to 21 at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. This year’s theme was “Borders, Boundaries and Contexts: Defining Spaces in the History of Alcohol & Drugs.” Enjoy!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Points is delighted to welcome Stephen Siff, an associate professor in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami University of Ohio. Below, Siff discusses his recent book, Acid Hype: American News Media and the Psychedelic Experience (University of Illinois, 2015), which chronicles LSD’s trip from multi-colored miracle to mind-melting menace.
Acid Hype is a history of how newspapers, magazines and TV reported on LSD and similar drugs in the1950s and 1960s. During that time, mainstream media enthusiastically promoted LSD as a treatment for all sorts of problems, and talked about its potential to provide memorable experiences to people who were not sick.
The book explains why journalists working for major newspapers and organizations like Time and Life devoted so much attention to describing psychedelic drug experiences, and how such work evolved as a genre within the journalism of the period.
Acid Hype leaves off around 1970. That’s when the media lost interest in psychedelic drugs, even while their actual prevalence in society was continuing to increase.
In their 2011 book, Gendering Addiction: The Politics of Drug Treatment in a Neurochemical World, Nancy Campbell and Elizabeth Ettorre problematize the male-centric knowledges that frame addiction research and treatment programs. They call for a more inclusive treatment strategy that does not consider the neurochemical “male brain” the baseline for recovery. According to the authors, these “epistemologies of ignorance” limit, even eliminate, the useful options available for female addicts.
In many similar ways, epistemologies of ignorance also manifest in the historical record of marijuana users in the 1930s. Perhaps “ignorance” is not quite the right term, even as its effects were just as restrictive, especially for women users in during the decade. But due to the American obsession with gender and sexual normativity during this period, both female and male users (as well as male and female anti-marijuana activists) occupied mutually exclusive discursive spaces from which two separate gendered narratives about marijuana use emerged. Reading past these stereotypes though, utilizing Michelle McClellan’s notion of “damp feminism” (here, and here), historians can make use of these highly problematic portrayals of female marijuana users from this period.
Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by Andrea Jones, a journalist interested in issues of alcohol and drug addiction in youth.
Rastafari: What comes to mind when you see the word? Jamaica? Dreadlocks? Bob Marley? Chances are one of the first things that comes to mind is marijuana. Culturally entrenched with the Rastafari movement since it began in the 1930s, marijuana – or ganja, as it’s more commonly called by Rastas – is considered sacred and is often referred to as the wisdom weed or holy herb.
What everyone seems to remember most is how fun and lively she was, the “saloon historian” who made a career out of elevating the importance of the lowly and mundane. Madelon Powers, the vivacious professor and former chair of the history department of the University of New Orleans, passed away in mid-April after a struggle with cancer, but her contributions to both the field of alcohol and drug history, as well as in the lives of her many students, will live on through her writing and a new UNO scholarship founded in her name.
Editor’s Note: Readers of Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society’s journal, are aware of Jonathon Erlen’s ongoing bibliography of recent dissertations related to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. Until recently, Dr. Erlen, the History of Medicine Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh, curated and published his dissertation lists in the print edition of the journal. Last August, the Alcohol and Drugs History Society moved the publication of Erlen’s bibliography to the blog. Below, we highlight a few entries that may be of interest to alcohol and drugs historians and provide a link to the complete listing of Erlen’s selections from the ProQuest index. The highlighted entries were harvested from ProQuest’s database in the spring of 2015.
Link to complete bibliographies: