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”

Peyote eaters

“The sun was coming out just as if it was before my face, the rays spreading out every way. My heart surely felt good to see it, so good, such a beautiful world!

Read on in Morris Edward Opler’s A description of a Tonkawa peyote meeting held in 1902.

 

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.

 

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.

 
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