Mi / 10:00 – 11:30

Substance, Self, and Setting

Triangular Epistemologies of Drug Use from the 1960s until Today

Stefan Höhne, KWI

KWI & Online (Zoom)

In the late 1960s and 1970s, new conceptualizations of the use of psychoactive substances emerged in Western psychiatry and psychoanalysis, aiming to radically challenge established perspectives that focused either on the allegedly inherently addictive qualities of these substances, or the pathological “junkie personalities” of users. Instead, public health experts and activists started to emphasize the key role of the cultural and socioeconomic context of drug consumption – not only for who was using and how, but also on the drug’s effect.

First and foremost, it was Harvard professor Norman Zinberg, drawing from his controversial experiments with drug users in Great Britain, the US and Vietnam, who proposed the framework of “drug, set, and setting” for understanding such phenomena. In the decades to come, this triad gained remarkable influence, eventually becoming the dominant epistemic framework for drug use in a variety of fields, from psychiatry and medicine to pedagogy and sociology.

In this session, Stefan Höhne will briefly present the emergence and context of this framework, and how it features in his own research – followed by an in-depth joint discussion of parts of Zinberg’s book (to be circulated in advance). Special focus will be on how we can mobilize his approach to analyze the spatial settings of narcotic cultures, and how the characteristics of these spaces (e.g., private/public, urban/rural) shape practices, governmentalities, and imaginaries.