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Drugs and Culture: New Perspectives

“Drugs are not mere compounds with determined pharmacological properties that can be in essence definitely classified as good or bad. Their existence and their uses involve complex questions of freedom and discipline, suffering and pleasure, devotion and adventure, transcendence and knowledge, sociability and criminality, morality and violence, commerce and war. This diversity of uses and modes of consumption is a mirror of our own cultural diversity. Our scientists and our legislators should, in some way, take into consideration the cultural dimension of drugs in order to shape more efficient and more adequate policies for today’s world.”

There is an excess of topics related to the theme of “drugs” that are not related with the Dionysian or with any notion of “abuse” or overdose. They deal with an abundance of clichés, prejudices, moralism, and fixed ideas. Few topics nowadays touch upon as many taboos and prohibitions as that of psychoactive drugs. This rule of thumb does not apply to all psychoactive drugs however. Rather, it generally concerns those prohibited by law or condemned by the dominant morality, by conventional psychology, and by medicine.

An enormous quantity of legal drugs produced by the pharmaceutical industry lives side by side with illicit drugs that generate around themselves a powerful international war that mobilizes states and networks of traffickers who hold global influence. Traditional uses of age-old drugs simultaneously exist with new practices related to these substances. And in any case, the literature that deals with the “question of drugs” is not accustomed to go beyond the narrow field that goes from medical works of a largely conservative nature, passes through the books of law, and ends with the often sensationalistic journalistic reports. Until recently, the social sciences formed a disciplinary space occupied by a few brave efforts to study “drugs,” but these few efforts were surrounded by an overbearing silence.

The book Drugs and Culture: New Perspectives, the result of a symposium organized by the Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies (NEIP, and that took place at the Universidade de São Paulo in 2005, represents an important push by researchers in the areas of anthropology, sociology, political sciences, law, and history to approach the topic of “drugs” from multiple angles and who have as their common ground the staunch criticism of the prohibition of these substances.

Comprising seventeen articles, besides a preface and an introduction, the volume is organized into three parts: “The history of drug consumption and prohibition in the West,” with four articles that reflect on the history and logic of the current day prohibitionist regime; “The use of drugs as a cultural phenomenon,” with three articles that examine the role of interdisciplinarity in the analysis of psychoactive substances; and “The use of drugs: cultural diversity in perspective,” which covers the majority of the texts in the collection and approaches the topic of drugs from the perspectives of different fields such as anthropology, ethnology and history.

The work offers an ample spectrum of approaches that constructs points of convergence and dialogue, and which creates zones of tension that are evident in the lack of consensus and composure that is common when dealing with a question like that at hand. This book serves as a reference for those who do not align themselves with what has already been published about “drugs” and who feel enough discomfort to be propelled to seek out other angles, viewpoints, and ideas on the topic.

(Thiago Rodrigues) [Translated to English by Brian Anderson].


Editors: Beatriz Caiuby Labate, Sandra Goulart, Maurício Fiore, Edward MacRae and Henrique CarneiroResearchers of NEIP (Interdisciplinary Group for Psychoactive Studies,

Publisher: EDUFBA

Support: Brazilian Ministry of Culture (MinC) and Research Support Foundation of the State of São Paulo (Fapesp)

ISBN: 978-85-232-0504-1

Format: 17 X 24 cm, illustrated – 440 p.

Price: R$ 40.00 (Brazilian Reais + shipping fee)



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Filed under: News


Beatriz Caiuby Labate or Bia Labate was born in São Paulo in 1971. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social science from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in 1996. In 2000 she obtained a master’s degree in social anthropology from the same university, receiving the Prize for Best Master’s Thesis from the National Association for Graduate Studies in Social Science (ANPOCS). Her doctoral research in social anthropology at UNICAMP focuses on the internationalization of Peruvian ayahuasca “vegetalismo.” She is co-editor of the books O uso ritual da ayahuasca (Mercado de Letras 2002) and O uso ritual das plantas de poder (Mercado de Letras, 2005) and author of the book A reinvenção do uso da ayahuasca nos centros urbanos (Mercado de Letras, 2004). She is a researcher with the Nucleus for Interdisciplinary Studies of Psychoactives (NEIP). In February 2005 she founded Alto das Estrelas, a private institute which promotes political activism, anthropological research and public events, in addition to researching the cultivation and preparation of vegetal species.

1 Comment

  1. Can this book be bought in English? If so can someone link me up? Cheers!

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