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”

The Perfect Whatever Drug

Anthropologist Michael Agar tries to describe what he calls, in an email to American Ethnography, “that first seductive dance with the drug, the song of the opiate siren, the early high times before biology takes over biography.” We have an excerpt from his book Dope Double Agent: The Naked Emperor on Drugs.

 

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.

 

Consciousness produced by intoxicants and anaesthetics

“I realized that in that half hour under ether I had served God more distinctly and purely than I had ever done in my life before, or than I am capable of desiring to do.”

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