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Ethnographies of Drug Use

  • Date Submitted: 05/01/2013 03:36 PM
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* Ethnographies of drug use, have demonstrated the effects of social controls, and how they are used to minimise harm amongst drug users. Zinberg’s theory proposes that social controls; namely social sanctions and social rituals, apply to the use of all drugs, both legal and illegal, successfully bringing their use under control in both Western and non-Western societies through minimising both harm and addiction.

Zinberg comprehensively describes social controls as rituals and sanctions that regulate where, why and how drugs are taken, successfully minimising addiction to drugs and harm caused by drug use. Social sanctions are both informal rules that “define whether and how a particular drug should be used” (Zinberg, 1984), and formal rules regarding the laws and policies surrounding legal and illegal drugs. Where as social rituals are the “stylized, prescribed behaviour surrounding the use of a drug” (Zinberg, 1984).
Along with Zinberg, many other people have agreed with and added to his theories regarding these social controls, mainly Zinberg’s idea of social rituals. In “Into that Whole Ritual Thing: Ritualist Drug Use Among Urban American Heroin Addicts” (Agar, 1977) demonstrates how rituals have a significant symbolic component for the drug user; the reason and location that certain drugs are taken have a symbolic meaning. To further the theory of social control minimising harm to drug users, Jean-Paul Grund uses an interview based experiment in “Rituals of Regulation” (Grund, 1993) to demonstrate the symbolic dimension of frontloading; meaning through sharing the drugs, the bonds between the users are strengthened, increasing the caution taken to make sure themselves and their friends are all free of harm due to the drug.

In Western societies, there are many studies that have shown both the positive and negative effects of these social controls. Formal social sanctions have proven to reduce the use of illicit drugs by approximately 30% since 1991...


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