Righteous Dopefiend

Homeless Drug Addicts on the Streets of San Francisco

Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg spent over a decade doing fieldwork with two dozen homeless heroin and crack addicts on the streets of San Francisco, and produced an extraordinary wellcrafted documentation of this dystopian side of American society.

While reading their new book, Righteous Dopefiend, we found ourselves thinking “it’s like the hobo stories from Jack London’s The Road gone horribly, horribly wrong.” Still, such a description doesn’t fully do this depressing grisliness justice. Particularly dark and unromantic is Schonberg’s photography. Exactly how dark is it? Well, let’s just say that the photo of the guy smoking crack through his tracheotomy hole comes across as a relatively jolly image.

This is an ethnographic tour de force, so we‘re stoked that we are able to bring you an excerpt from Bourgois’ and Schonberg’s book.

 
Photo of medicinal bottle with a label that says “Heroin”

Good dreams?

“He was leaning back on his elbows and crying, with his mouth in a funny position.”

Another one of Morris Edward Opler’s accounts, this one from 1938: The use of Peyote by the Carrizo and Lipan Apache tribes.

 

Evans Schultes on Peyote

As a Harvard undergraduate student, Richard Evans Schultes – who later has been described as “the father of modern ethnobotany” – did fieldwork in Oklahoma, where he took peyote himself and studied how the cactus was eaten in the rituals of native Kiowa and Comanche Indians.

Read his observations in one of his earliest works: The appeal of peyote (Lophophora Williamsii) as a medicine.

 

Becoming a Marihuana User

We have featured Howard Becker’s writing previously in American Ethnography (see Photography and sociology). Now we want to bring to your attention one of his earlier articles: Becoming a Marihuana User from 1953. Becker shines brilliantly with his typical scientific eloquence, as he describes the psychological and social factors that need to be in place for a neophyte to succesfully get high, and later be “willing and able to use the drug for pleasure when the opportunity presents itself.” Read on in this beautiful piece of social science, Becoming a Marihuana User.

 
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