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Unit information: Stimulating Anthropology: Drugs and Society in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Stimulating Anthropology: Drugs and Society
Unit code ARCHM0077
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Carrier
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts


The use of stimulants and intoxicants – ‘drugs’ – permeates all human societies, and a vast range of drugs from coffee to cocaine are used in a wide variety of social contexts. This unit explores drug use across different cultures and societies. It shows how anthropological approaches to drugs deepen understandings of these substances and their pharmacology through drawing out the socio-cultural and political economic contexts in which they are enmeshed. Emphasis is placed on anthropological approaches to drug use, and students are introduced to a number of key texts and films in the discipline that focus on drugs, including alcohol and other ‘licit’ drugs. A key question asked in the course is what anthropology can learn from the study of these substances, exploring how they give purchase onto a range of anthropological themes.

Unit Aims:

  • To develop an understanding of the role of stimulants and intoxicants in human society
  • To introduce students to anthropological approaches to the study of these substances
  • To understand how such approaches contrast with approaches in other disciplines, and the importance of interdisciplinary ‘biocultural’ approaches
  • To engage critically with key texts in anthropology
  • To understand the strengths and weaknesses of an ethnographic approach in studying the illicit
  • To convey how case-studies of stimulants and intoxicants speak to much broader themes in anthropology, from consumption to development
  • To understand the potential for anthropology to contribute beyond the academy regarding drug policy

Intended learning outcomes

  1. Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the importance of drugs in contemporary society and the policy and discourse that surrounds them.
  2. Discuss critically the historical development of anthropological approaches to the study of drugs.
  3. Explain and evaluate how social scientists study drugs, and, in particular, assess the advantages and limitations of an ethnographic approach.
  4. Critically evaluate the potential for the study of drugs to offer broader anthropological insight.
  5. Demonstrate a critical understanding of how social, cultural and political processes shape the trade and use of such substances.
  6. Evaluate how best anthropological insight into drugs and their associated problems can be applied in policy and practice beyond academia

Teaching details

3-hour session per week consisting of a 1.5-hour lecture and 1.5-hour discussion, film screenings and class work.

Assessment Details

One 5000 word essay (assesses ILOs 1-6).

Students will also engage in weekly group work leading to a group presentation in week 11 on a particular substance that will be assessed formatively in regard to ILOs 1-6

Reading and References

  • Allen, C. 2003 (2nd edition), The Hold Life Has: Coca and cultural identity in an Andean community, Smithsonian Books.
  • Bancroft, A. 2009. Drugs, Intoxication & Society, Polity Press.
  • Bourgois, P. 1995, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, Cambridge: University Press.
  • Douglas, M. (ed.) 1987, Constructive Drinking: Perspectives on drink from anthropology, London: Routledge.
  • Goodman, J., Lovejoy, P.E. and Sherratt, A. (eds.) 2007 (2nd edition), Consuming Habits: Drugs in history and anthropology, London: Routledge.
  • Heath, D. 2000, Drinking Occasions: Comparative perspectives on alcohol and culture, London: Routledge
  • Klein, A. 2008. Drugs and the World, Reaktion Books.
  • Page, J.B. and M. Singer 2010, Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic research at the Social Margins, Rutgers: University Press.