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.    Read More »

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The Points Interview — Peter Ferentzy and Nigel E. Turner

Editor’s Note:  Authors Peter Ferentzy and Nigel E. Turner describe their new book, The History of Problem Gambling: Temperance, Substance Abuse, Medicine, and Metaphors (Springer, 2012) in today’s Points interview. 

1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Ferentzy-Turner-coverNT & PF:  Our book examines how the idea of gambling as a disease came into existence and how that concept changed over time. We point out two current disease models – the public health and the chronic disease model – and explore their roots. We also explore the metaphoric utilities of these models, examining what these metaphors both can reveal and can hide about the concept. The idea that metaphors reveal and hide information is important. It is not always recognized that how one categorizes a phenomenon affects how it is understood. This is true for all categorization but perhaps more so for mental health phenomena. Viewing gambling problems as a chronic disease harbors the implication that the disorder is difficult to overcome, that it is not the person’s fault, and that it obligates lifelong abstinence for those who are vulnerable as the only viable approach to the disorder. If on the other hand we view gambling as a public health problem the focus shifts to the game and the administration of gambling, rather than the gambler. Now, issues relating to the game’s availability, its design, and the role of public health policy in addressing the problem rise in salience. The public health perspective shifts attention to prevention and self-control, rather than abstinence per se. Our book discusses how both models also hide facts about the disorder. It’s important to be aware of the metaphors one is using and not mistake metaphors for literal truths. Otherwise they can become a mental trap preventing one from understanding the reality of the phenomenon. We examine how metaphors associated with problem gambling have changed over time.

2.  What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

NT: The book brings together a number of ideas from disciplines that have not interacted very much in the past. Read More »

The Points Interview — Todd Meyers

Editor’s note: Points welcomes Todd Meyers, a medical anthropologist at Wayne State University, to discuss his new book, The Clinic and Elsewhere: Addiction, Adolescents, and the Afterlife of Therapy (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013).

meyers front cover1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The book tells the story of a small group of teenagers (some quite young) who abuse opiates (heroin, prescription painkillers) as well as other drugs, and what drug dependency treatment was like for them. I met most of them during their time at a residential drug treatment center in Baltimore – a treatment center that, oddly enough, was once a monastery. I was fool enough to attempt following them around for long periods of time to gain an appreciation of how addiction and treatment ­took shape in their lives – how these two “modes” (drug dependency and its treatment) blur in unexpected ways. And that’s really one of the key arguments of the book – that clinical activities and thought reach into this thing we call “the social” and vice versa, thus the title of the book, The Clinic and Elsewhere. All of the kids I followed were treated with a relatively new pharmaceutical therapy (buprenorphine) for withdrawal and replacement therapy, and I followed that treatment process through their time in residential care and back into their homes or other institutional environments. The book is simultaneously about the new pharmaceutical therapy itself – tracing its development and approval as a new treatment modality. The book is a bit theoretical (what are the experiential dimensions of therapeutics? of patienthood? of success and failure of medical intervention? of concern? etc.) and a bit straight storytelling (that is to say, it’s ethnographic, through I’m becoming less and less satisfied with the salience of ethnography as both the technology and product of fieldwork). I attempted, at times clumsily, to make sense of treatment and addiction alongside these kids and their families as they themselves struggled with its meaning.

That’s probably what I’d say.  But in full disclosure, the last time I had a conversation with a bartender it began with hearing how he makes his own bitters from plants in his hydroponic garden and ended with him describing his thesis project (something about lactose fermentation and legal aspects of local food production), so I don’t think the book would be much of a stretch.  In fact, that’s part of my effort – to present work in conceptual terms that is not completely foreign to a broad readership (though not to water things down by any means, keeping with the bartender analogy) – and at the same time I have tried to write against the anticipated trope of marginality. That last part is probably the hardest to convey convincingly. The book is not a series of reworked scenes from The Wire but instead attempts to demonstrate the slow, at times banal, at other times brutal ways in which both addiction and treatment take hold within the domain of individual experience (contrasting a perspective where treatment neutralizes addiction uniformly, or that the experience of treatment is largely unvaried).    Read More »

The Points Interview — Gabrielle Glaser

Editor’s Note:  Author Gabrielle Glaser offers some quick comments about her new book, Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — And How They Can Regain Control (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Glaser cover1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

A few years ago I started noticing a big shift in the way women talked about their drinking. Sometime in the early aughts it began to appear as a cultural trope — women “needing” wine. I looked into why that was, and if it could be substantiated by facts. I found some numbers that were pretty convincing. I have always been intrigued by our country’s weird relationship with alcohol. My grandfather was a Canadian bootlegger and always said he had been in the “thirst” business. He was an amazing storyteller and his tales of driving whiskey across the border in the dark of night really stayed with me. I wondered how we had gone from prohibiting booze to Real Housewife Wine, and tried to tell that story.

2.  What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

Hey, most of what I know I learned from you guys. But the marketing of wine to women in the 1950s and 60s is something I had to piece together, and that was amazing. The pamphlets urging vendors to “Market to the Housewife! Explain Why She Needs Red Wine!” and the wine industry surveys are particularly charming — a piece of the puzzle. GlaserAlso, the idea that women began making wine, and pleasing their own taste buds, was also interesting.  (Women were behind the making of Chardonnay, which was easy for women to like — it had a smooth mouthfeel and was sweet.)  Likewise, marketers helped to demystify it.  I grew up at a time when only men would get the wine list, and the cork. It was intimidating.  No more.

3.  Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

Oh, I loved the history, but that’s my thing. I spent hours with Axel Borg, the wine librarian at UC Davis (how fabulous is that? He’s a fantastic librarian in general but he knows everything about the history of California winemaking), and learned so much about the rocky road of wine acceptance in the US. I also had a blast looking at colonial booze recipes. Who wouldn’t want to come across Martha Washington’s recipe for “Capon Ale”? Every time I got frustrated with my lack of progress, I’d look at that recipe and laugh.

DTDB_PRE_BUDGET7.jpg - wine / alcohol

4.  Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

I’m not saying this to boost Ward and Roizen’s project, but I’d love to see a biography of E.M. Jellinek.  He was a fascinating guy.  What drove him?  What were his motivations?  Did he leave private journals?  Plus, there are so many funny titles you could make use of “Bunky.”

5.  BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

Helen Mirren or Kathleen Turner. They haven’t asked yet.

The Points Interview — William Garriott and Eugene Raikhel

Editor’s Note:  Eugene Raikhel and William Garriott, editors of a just-out collection of ethnographic essays titled Addiction Trajectories (Duke University Press, 2013), share their views in response to the Points’ interview’s probes. 

addiction-trajectories-cover1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

William Garriott (WG) and Eugene Raikhel (ER):  In Addiction Trajectories we wanted to introduce readers to current anthropological work on addiction, and to propose a conceptual theme which we think unifies much of this new research.  So the book does both of these things.  First, it presents several ethnographic case studies of addiction in contemporary settings ranging from Puerto Rico to Russia, to southern France, to West Virginia, to Las Vegas.  Second, it proposes the concept of addiction trajectories as a framework for understanding these particular cases.  We highlight three particular addiction trajectories: epistemic or knowledge trajectories, therapeutic trajectories, and experiential and experimental trajectories.  These terms capture three key elements of addiction:  the ongoing debate over what, exactly, addiction is; the myriad treatments available for addiction; and the experience of addiction. The term “trajectories” is meant to draw attention both to the different kinds of movement we see taking place in each of these dimensions (change over time, but also movement across social and geographic space) as well as the open-endedness of this movement.

Eugene Raikhel
Eugene Raikhel

2.  What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book? 

WG:  I hope they will appreciate the authors’ efforts to show, through ethnography, how history is lived.  Each chapter in its own way shows how the past is embodied in the present.  This may be, in the case of Angela Garcia’s chapter, how a history of land dispossession in New Mexico is implicated in contemporary experiences of heroin addiction, or, in Eugene’s chapter, how the legacy of Soviet-era addiction therapeutics continues to shape treatment of addiction today. Read More »

The Points Interview — Eoin Cannon

Note: Points’ managing editor, Eoin Cannon, favors us, today, with an interview on his just-out, new book, The Saloon and the Mission: Addiction, Conversion, and the Politics of Redemption in American Culture  (University of Massachusetts Press, 2013). BTW, Big Congratulations, Eoin!

Cannon-coverDescribe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Sorry, barkeep, but this book is about people who ceased to need your services and then made a realllly big deal about it.  It’s about how and why people have told stories of recovery from alcoholism publicly since the late 19th century.

I focus especially on the legacies of the “drunkard’s conversion” testimonies given in urban evangelical missions and circulated widely in print from the 1880s to the 1910s. Despite their roots in old-time religion, these stories’ urban class dynamics made them compelling to those who saw the knot of poverty, ethnic difference, and vice as a modern social crisis. In personal voices and realistic slum settings, the drunkards’ conversion stories defied the irreversible fates associated with these categories. The practical understanding of salvation they offered also made such tales susceptible to a wide range of interpretations. So instead of seeing conversion stories as individualistically oriented distractions from structural injustices — as skeptical readers today might — many reformers, artists, and intellectuals in this period retold them as stories that modeled a wider social healing by the lights of a variety of social theories, from radical to reactionary. In the context of this contested discourse around the meaning of the drinker’s redemption, literary writers through the modern period told stories of alcoholism with high stakes. The drinker’s descent was a character-based crisis, but one that plumbed modern society’s perceived maladjustment and, possibly, harbored clues to its regeneration.

This programmatic approach to redemption shaped the storytelling conventions available to the budding recovery movement in the 1930s and beyond. A.A.’s pioneers subsumed the contested aspects of the form into a recognizably Depression-era revision of the self, one that understood the limitations of individualism in social as well as in spiritual terms. In mutual-aid circles, these stories could remain highly pragmatic, devoted to A.A.’s “primary purpose.” But public recovery stories since the rise of A.A. have taken the social ethic of mutual aid beyond twelve-step culture and out into the wider society. These stories often depict recovery as the solution to a social problem or even as the model of an ideal society. As such, they have tracked the progress of liberalism since the New Deal era and, I argue, helped to shape its redemptive ethos in the realm of culture. Cannon

So while we may not openly contest the meaning of the modern recovery story, preferring to accept that it simply describes how a sick person got well, the story form is so constructed as to embody foundational claims about the self and its relation to others. If we as a society don’t agree on those claims, neither will we agree on the meaning of recovery — arguably a dissensus increasingly in evidence since the 1960s.

What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

Most interesting might be the things they are most likely to question. First, I started my pre-history of recovery narrative in the postbellum rescue missions, rather than in the Washingtonian Movement of the 1840s. I placed a lot of weight on the secular implications of prevailing interpretations of mission testimonies, despite the fact that they had been preceded by an already secular movement a generation earlier. I did so because I found that the rescue mission stories were influential in mediating institutions — church homiletics, progressive reform, academic psychology, realist literature — which in turn informed the redemptive ideals and the storytelling styles more broadly associated with recovery in the 20th century. In other words, the rescue missions provided a master narrative of modern addiction storytelling. Read More »

Collier’s 1943 Snapshot of the First Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies

Note: Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at jhajnal@rci.rutgers.edu, or Ron Roizen, at ronroizen@frontier.com.  With thanks in advance, from both of us.

Jellinek and YSS women students 1943“IF YOU saw an Anti-Saloon Leaguer shake the hand of a saloonkeeper,” wrote Amy Porter in the October 30, 1943 issue of Collier’s magazine, “and the two of them walk and talk together as thick as thieves, your first question might well be: Where am I? The answer would have to be: At the School of Alcohol Studies at Yale. Nowhere else, probably, has such an event taken place.”

Placed adjacent these opening sentences was the happy picture shown above, featuring E.M. Jellinek, with a coyly grateful smile, flanked by two clearly delighted Yale Summer School students, one from the temperance tradition and the other from Seagram’s. Porter’s article was titled “Wet and Dry School” – thus telegraphing from the get-go that the new institution took no position on the great alcohol controversy and cultural schism that, by 1943, had preoccupied the nation for more than a hundred years.

Such magazines as Collier’s, Look, and Life provided the photo journalism of their day. Several photos of the Yale school’s activities, faculty, and students accompanied Porter’s text — these credited to Collier’s photographer Hans Knopf-Pix. Four are reproduced in this post.

Porter’s focus on the possibility of a happy coming together — call it a national reunion — of Americans around the alcohol issue illuminated an important and yet little discussed latent function of “the new scientific approach” to alcohol that Jellinek and his Yale school colleagues proffered. Read More »

The Points Interview — Kathleen J. Frydl

Editor’s Note: Kathleen Frydl’s new book, The Drug Wars in America, 1940-1973, is just out from Cambridge University Press. Points welcomes her timely and enlightening interview.

Frydl-book-cover 1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

I tell the story of how and why the US government became “addicted” to the modern drug war, choosing prohibition and punishment over treatment and regulation. I argue that the logic behind the particular shape and targets of the drug war (including that which was not targeted) had less to do with crime or addiction, and more to do with the management of state power.

2.  What do you think a bunch of drug and alcohol historians might find particularly interesting about your book?

To be honest, probably not that much. At several points, I rely on that scholarship, but I can’t say that I actually contribute to it. For readers of this blog, it might be interesting — maybe even troubling, but hopefully stimulating — to hear the story of the drug war narrated through a different voice.  I hope it is viewed as a complement to the literature.

That said, there are some parts of the book that may be of interest. In chapter 5, I argue that methadone clinics lost support for a variety of reasons. Proponents of punishment, recovery movements, and various groups on the left imposed standard medical — as opposed to public health — criteria on maintenance: built around “a crisis followed by a cure” paradigm. This is somewhat different from the goals of harm reduction. Under this more demanding paradigm, the fact that every recovery victory could be celebrated  compensated believers for so much failure. In the public health lens, on the other hand, successful maintenance meant only less to be dismayed about. The outcomes were not so heroic and the narrative not so redemptive. Whether it was the Black Panthers or traditional recovery movements, certain advocates criticized maintenance precisely because it staved off the “crisis” which they felt was needed in order to proceed to the “cure,” whether that cure was sobriety or revolution in the inner city.

Read More »

The Points Interview — John Markert

Editor’s Note:  Hooked in Film: Substance Abuse on the Big Screen (Scarecrow Press, 2013), by John Markert, is due out in June.  Below, author Markert kindly offers his responses to the Points interview’s palatte of probing questions.

Markert-cover1.  Describe your book in terms your bartender would understand.

Few people have every used heroin or cocaine, yet just about everyone knows that you “shoot” heroin and roll a dollar bill to snort “a line” of powdered cocaine.  These images linger in the mind’s eye because we’ve seen people do this in the movies, even if the images are inaccurate — shooting heroin is rare today, though it continues to be the dominate route of administration depicted in contemporary film.

Movies in contemporary society are a primary way of imparting information about our social world.  We may rely more heavily on film to tell us about drugs than about other social topics since few people have first-hand knowledge about illegal drugs.  Movies, then, become a primacy source of information about who uses what kind of drug, the effect of the drug on the individual, how problematic the drug might (or might not) be in society, and what should be done about the problem, if, in fact, film frames it as a problem.

Heroin, for example, is clearly depicted in film as a deadly drug.  In film, you stick a needle in your arm and you’re as good as dead.  Film ignores the fact that many regular heroin users “chip” at their use and moderate their use depending on heroin’s availability. Film also ignores the fact that while 1.5 percent have played with heroin at some point in their lives, only 0.2 percent can be considered “regular” (past year) users, which means that many people who have experimented with heroin do not become addicts.  The deadly consequences of heroin use depicted in film, though not quite accurate, may not necessarily be a bad thing because it could discourage the casual experimenter from even considering trying heroin.Read More »

On E.M. Jellinek’s Trail

Note:  Readers are encouraged to send potential leads, sources, or thoughts relating to E.M. Jellinek’s life to Judit Ward, at jhajnal@rci.rutgers.edu, or Ron Roizen, at ronroizen@frontier.com.  With thanks in advance, from both of us.

Edna Jellinek Lindh Pariser, E.M.'s younger sister, in a 1921 passport photo
Edna Jellinek Lindh Pariser, E.M.’s younger sister, in a 1921 passport photo

Who was E.M. Jellinek?

As a great many Points readers will already be aware, Jellinek rose to prominence in mid-20th-century America as a spokesman for “a new scientific approach” to alcoholism and alcohol.  Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the temperance movement and its paradigm were discredited, and the nation was, in the ‘40s and ‘50s, looking for a new perspective on its longstanding problematic relationship with Demon Rum.  For a variety of reasons, Jellinek proved to be an excellent instrument for inviting the nation to embrace a new and more scientifically oriented disposition toward alcohol-related problems.  He also published two very useful artifacts with respect to the modern alcoholism movement:  a widely employed description of alcoholism’s progressively unfolding symptomatology and a formula for estimating the prevalence of alcoholism.  E.M. Jellinek’s name is still revered today in both the alcohol science community and in Alcoholics Anonymous.

For the past several months,  we — i.e., Judit Ward and her staff at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies library and Ron Roizen in Idaho — have been collecting material on E.M. Jellinek’s life, loves, career, and times.  In part, we’re searching for elements of his past that may have prepared him for the profound role he played in transforming our society’s relationship to alcohol and alcoholism.  Yet — and also — he’s just a damn interesting guy to learn about.  So far, it’s been both an intoxicatingly exciting adventure and a very frustrating task.

One of the project’s strengths is that one of us (viz., J.W.) is a native Hungarian speaker.  This advantage holds considerable promise for ultimately sorting out Jellinek’s currency trading caper in 1920 and his rapid and ignominious departure from Budapest the same year.  It’s also an advantage with respect to new work being done of late by Hungarian scholars on Jellinek’s life and relationships (see Kelemen and Mark [2012], Mark and Brettner [2012], and Hars [2009]).  To date, the American readership of these articles might not stretch far beyond the two of us – with, of course, J.W. doing the translating and R.R. doing the attentive listening.  Yet, this tick up in Hungarian interest is certainly a very welcome sign.  We’ve had the privilege, too, of communicating directly with Gabor Kelemen, one of the Hungarian scholars.  He reports, among other things, that he’s currently at work on an examination of Jellinek’s 1917 monograph on the ethnographic history of the shoe (Jellinek, 1917).

Was that the shoe?!

Not the least engaging aspect of our biographical project is how colorfully varied Jellinek’s many intellectual pursuits were.Read More »