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Drug Panels at 2018 AAA

We are quickly approaching the 2018 American Anthropological Association annual conference in San Jose, California!

Below is a list of panels, papers, roundtables, and events related to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco that will be of interest to ADTSG members.  Check out this jam-packed schedule!


12:00pm – 1:45pm (Hilton, San Carlos I)

  • Panel: Questioning Addiction and Contextualizing Treatment I

12:00pm – 1:45pm (Convention Center, LL 20 B)

  • Panel: Situating and Expanding Drugs’ Capacities: Panel I of III: Pharmakon, Toxicity, and Other Ambivalent Effects

12:15pm – 12:30pm (Hilton, Winchester)

  • Paper: Knowing (with) Medicine / Conociendo (con) Medicina (Presenter: Megan Raschig)

12:15pm – 12:30pm (Convention Center, Grand Ballroom A)

  • Paper: Imaginations of Democracy and War in the Mexican Nation (Presenter: Agnes Mondragon Celis Ochoa)

12:30pm – 12:45pm (Hilton, Almaden Ballroom I)

  • Paper: Colors of Elision: Parasites and Labor Stories from Tobacco Farms in Andhra Pradesh (Presenter: Amrita Kurian)

12:30pm – 12:45pm (Convention Center, Executive Ballroom 210 G)

  • Paper: Remaking (Il)licit Landscapes: Evading and Enacting “Care Through Regulation” in Peru’s War on Drugs (Presenter: Allison Kendra)

1:15pm-1:30pm (TBD)

  • Paper: Drug Court: Public Health and Law to Treat the U.S. “Drug Problem” (Presenter: Raha Peyravi)

2:15pm – 4:00pm (Convention Center, LL 21 A)

  • Panel: Drug Control Regimes in the Indigenous Americas (Part 1)

2:15pm – 4:00pm (Convention Center, Grand Ballroom A)

  • Panel: Ethnographic Inquiries About Drugs, Prescription, and Otherwise

2:15pm – 4:00pm (Hilton, San Carlos I)

  • Panel: Questioning Addiction and Contextualizing Treatment II

2:15pm – 4:00pm (Convention Center, LL 20 A)

  • Panel: Situating and Expanding Drugs’ Capacities: Panel II of III: Ontological and Epistemological Politics and Relations

2:45pm – 3:00pm (Convention Center, MR 211 A)

  • Paper: “I Can’t Say I’m a Recovering Addict. I am Recovered”: One Latina’s Testimony of Pentecostal Healing (Presenter: Michelle L. Ramirez)

4:30pm – 4:45pm (Convention Center, MR 211 A)

  • Paper: Reclaiming Agency Through Acudetox: A Study of Auricular Acupuncture Treatments for Substance Abuse Disorders in Grand Rapids, Michigan (Presenter: Sascha Goluboff)

4:30pm – 4:45pm (Convention Center, LL 21 C)

  • Paper: Making a Home When Homeless: Intimate Labor and Belonging among Drug Addicts in Post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan (Presenter: Grace Zhou)

4:30pm – 6:15pm (Convention Center, LL 21 A)

  • Panel: Drug Control Regimes in the Indigenous Americas (Part 2)

4:30pm – 6:15pm (Convention Center, LL 20 B)

  • Panel: Situating and Expanding Drugs’ Capacities: Panel III of III: Efforts to Stabilize Fluid, Multiple, and Unruly Effects


8:15am – 8:30am (Convention Center, MR 230 A)

  • Paper: The New Age of Psychedelics: How Might Carlos Castenada’s “The Teachings of Don Juan” Be Received Today? (Presenter: Patricia Kubala)

8:45am – 9:00am (Convention Center, MR 230 A)

  • Paper: Remodelling Psychosis with Psychedelic Science in the New “New Age” (Presenter: Tehseen Noorani)

10:30am – 10:45am (Convention Center, MR 211 A)

  • Paper: Taking Soda: Well-Being and Social Connection After Alcohol (Presenter: China Scherz)

11:15am – 11:30am (Convention Center, MR 212 D)

  • Paper: “Is There Rum in This Jamaican Black Rum Cake?”: How Drug Treatment Courts Reproduce the Authority of the Reasonable Man (Presenter: Emily Metzner)

2:00pm – 2:15pm (TBD)

  • Paper: Conducting Research in a Conflict Zone: Drug Wars and State Violence in Michoacán, México (Presenter: Mintzi Martinez-Rivera)

2:00pm – 3:45pm (Convention Center, Executive Ballroom 210 B)

  • Panel: Anthropological Interventions in the U.S. Opioid Crisis

5:00pm – 5:15pm (Convention Center, MR 230 B)

  • Paper: The Ethics of Prohibition: The Ban on Alcohol in a Chinese Muslim Town (Presenter: Ruslan Yusupov)


8:30am – 8:45am (Convention Center, MR 211 D)

  • Paper: Legal Vagaries, Moral Clarity, and the Remarkable Rise of Medical Cannabis (Presenter: Caroline Melly)

8:30am – 8:45am (TBD)

  • Paper: Engendering Recovery: Gender Segregation and Gender Specificity in Court-Mandated Drug Treatment Programs (Presenter: Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot)

8:30am – 8:45am (TBD)

  • Paper: “I’m in Rome, I’m Doing as Romans Do”: Urban Recovery as a Site of Post-colonial Organization and Discipline (Presenter: Tali Ziv)

10:30am – 10:45am (Fairmont, Glen Ellen)

  • Paper: Exurban Fortress: Housing Consumption, the War on Drugs, and the Management of Urban/Rural Divide (Presenter: Michael Polson)

2:00pm – 2:15pm (Hilton, Almaden Ballroom I)

  • Paper: Necrogeography and Frames of War: Opioid Overdose Death and the Politics of Exclusion in Washington, D.C. (Presenter: Andrea Lopez)

2:00pm – 3:45pm (TBD)

  • Panel: Reimagining Psychedelic Drugs as Medicines: Ethnography’s Role in Assessing Ritualized Psychoactive Therapies

2:00pm – 3:45pm (Convention Center, Grand Ballroom A)

  • Roundtable: Bending the ATOD Curve: Querying Collaborative Approaches in Multilevel Local/Global Substance Use Prevention/Cessation Efforts

2:15pm – 2:30pm (Hilton, Almaden Ballroom I)

  • Paper: Evidence-Based Intervention and the Protection of Life in a Broken Promiseland (Presenter: Danya Fast)

2:30pm – 2:45pm (Convention Center, MR 230 B)

  • Paper: From Temple to Clinic: Disordering of Thai Models of Rehabilitated Selves Within Methamphetamine Addiction (Presenter: Jason Chung)

4:15pm – 6:00pm (Convention Center, MR 212 B)

  • Panel: Reimagining the Anthropology of Drugs: Materiality, Medicine, and Neuroanthropology

4:15pm – 4:30pm (Convention Center, MR 230 C)

  • Paper: Anxious Affects and Paranoid Ethnography: Rumors of Violence in Reynosa’s Prostitution Zone During the Drug War (Presenter: Sarah Luna)

5:15pm – 5:30pm (Convention Center, LL 21 F)

  • Paper: Dreaming and Its Discontents: The Politics of Imagining Life After Drugs (Presenter: Nicholas Barlett)

5:30pm – 5:45pm (TBD)

  • Paper: On the Construction of a New Mexican Imaginary in Midst of Drug War Violence (Presenter: Brenda Garcia)


8:00am – 8:15am (Convention Center, MR 212 D)

  • Paper: Stemming the Stoner Stereotype: Post-Prohibition Representations of Cannabis Cultures in California (Presenter: Rachel Giraudo)

8:00am – 9:45am (Convention Center, MR 211 D)

  • Roundtable: Back to the Phuture: Assessing the Efficacy (and Critique) of Big Pharma in a Post-Blockbuster World

8:45am – 9:00am (TBD)

  • Paper: The Care in the Clean Needle: Syringe Exchange as a Practice of Resistance to Biomedical Governmentality in Honolulu (Presenter: Aashish Hemrajani)

10:30am – 10:45am (Convention Center, LL 20 A)

  • Paper: Ghost Plants: Coca at the Edges of Agricultural Reparations (Presenter: Sydney Silverstein)

12:00pm – 2:00pm (Convention Center, Concourse Lobby)

  • Gallery Session: Tobacco Cessation and Religious Practice – Indonesian Ramadhan and the “Great Smokeout” (Presenter: Rikhart Rupnik)

2:00pm – 2:15pm (TBD)

  • Paper: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitical Ontologies: HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis and the Anti-Drug War in the Philippines (Presenter: Richard Karl Deang)

2:00pm – 3:45pm (Hilton, Santa Clara I)

  • Panel: Paradigmatic Narcotics: Rethinking Opioids and Epidemics

4:15pm – 4:30pm (Convention Center, Executive Ballroom 210 A)

  • Paper: The Obscured Ethics and Embodied Politics of Global Tobacco Capitalism (Presenter: Ben Merrill)

5:15pm – 5:30pm (Convention Center, Executive Ballroom 210 F)

  • Paper: Breaking Down Big Tobacco: Small Factories, Workers, and Philip Morris International in Indonesia (Presenter: Marina Welker)

7:45pm – 9:00pm (TBD)

  • Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Open Business Meeting

CFP – Benevolence and Responsibility (SPA 2019)

Society for Psychological Anthropology 2019 Call for Papers

Benevolence and Responsibility: The Pastoral Paradox in Contemporary Institutions of Care

Organizer / Chair: Todd Ebling (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

Discussant: Paul Brodwin (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)

In several lectures and essays, Foucault identified the “strangest” form of power in the Western world that he labelled “pastoral.” While anthropologists have found his idea useful in a variety of contexts, particularly in thinking about how the subjectivities of beneficiaries of care are fashioned by shepherding institutions (Fassin 2010; Garcia 2010), less explicit attention has been paid to a fundamental feature that Foucault called “the paradox of the shepherd,” i.e. that pastoral power is both individualizing and totalizing: as he put it, omnes et singulatim. This panel enquires into this paradox by exploring the ways contemporary institutions – both state and nonstate – individualize “the flock” through moral direction toward self-responsibility, self-sufficiency, and self-transformation, yet also totalize individuals through seemingly indiscriminate practices of benevolence, service, and care.

Vis-à-vis this theme, papers may engage but should not be limited to the following questions: How do therapeutic encounters produce both benevolence and responsibility and for whom? To what extent do discourses in psychiatry frame or produce moral selves as both passive recipients and responsible agents of care? In what instances and under what conditions do social workers provide services while placing responsibility on clients? How do humanitarian organizations choose to intervene and offer services yet demand responsibility of their program beneficiaries? How do neoliberal policies both support and undermine moral economies of care? Ultimately, we invite papers that focus on the individualizing and totalizing dimensions of contemporary pastoral institutions and encounters with the abnormal, the ill, the addicted, the client, and the confessor.

If you think you have a paper that would fit nicely with the session theme, please email an abstract to Todd Ebling at by November 19, 2018.

The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs

The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs: An Interdisciplinary Journal (SHAD) is a great journal that welcomes historically framed ethnographic and/or anthropological work on alcohol and drugs!   And SHAD has some exciting news: the editors of SHAD are pleased to announce that the journal has joined the publishing program of The University of Chicago Press. Building on 30 years of publication, we will release our first issue with the Press in 2019. The journal will be available both in print and online. For further information, please see:

The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs is dedicated to publishing high-quality original research, reflection essays, and reviews in the field of alcohol and drug history, broadly construed. Multidisciplinary and supported by top scholars in the field, SHAD is the only English-language academic journal devoted to this diverse topic.

The journal appears twice annually as an official publication of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society, which promotes scholarship on the history of alcohol and drug use, abuse, production, trade, and regulation across time and space. Scholars publishing with SHAD are invited to be featured on the Points blog, an online space for exchanging new ideas, insights, and speculations about our interdisciplinary and rapidly evolving field.

SHAD editors Nancy Campbell, David Herzberg, and Lucas Richert are absolutely thrilled with the journal’s new home, which will give its excellent scholarship the visibility and intellectual connections merited at a time of heightened and well-justified interest in the many worlds of drugs and alcohol. We are also delighted with our new cover design, featuring paintings by Jenny Kemp.

The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs will be represented at upcoming conferences, including those of the American Association for the History of Medicine, the American Historical Association, the American Sociological Association, and the History of Science Society, among others.

Graduate Student Paper Prize Winner: Sydney Silverstein

The Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Study Group is happy to announce the winner of our 2018 Graduate Student Paper Prize: Sydney Silverstein!

Sydney is recent graduate of the Ph.D. program of the Department of Anthropology at Emory University.  Her award-winning paper, A Second Chance: Re-enactment, Excess Meaning, and the Social Worlds of PBC in Iquitos, examines how addicts at a drug treatment center in Peru construct their drug recovery narratives through a re-enactment film aimed at conveying their drug-using lives and decisions to seek recovery.

The ADTSG Graduate Student Paper Prize is an annual award that recognizes the best graduate student paper in the anthropology of alcohol, drugs, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, or other psychoactive substance use.  Please join us in congratulating Sydney on her excellent work and contribution to our field!

Graduate Student Travel Award Winner: Richard Karl Deang

The Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Study Group is happy to announce the winner of our 2018 Graduate Student Travel Award: Richard Karl Deang!

Richard is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Virginia.  The paper he will be presenting at the AAAs, Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitical Ontologies: HIV Pre-exposure Prophylaxis and the Anti-Drug War in the Philippines, will examine how drugs, including HIV medication, categorize different subjects in terms of their capacity for self-government and their value to the national population.

The ADTSG Graduate Student Travel Award is an annual award that helps a graduate student attend the AAAs to present a paper that engages questions related to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, or other psychoactive substance use.  Please join us in congratulating Richard on his excellent contribution to our field!

CFP: Dimensions of the Global and Local Narco-Environments (SfAA 2018)

SfAA 2018 Panel Call for Papers

Dimensions of the Global and Local Narco-Environments

Organizers: Marcos Mendoza (University of Mississippi) and Carter Hunt (Penn State University)

This panel examines the global and local narco-environments with an eye to understanding conservation outcomes. The global narco-environment refers to the shifting social, territorial, political, and economic bases for the production, trafficking, consumption, and interdiction of illegal drugs (cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, etc.), typically within highly adaptive, flexible global commodity chains. These narco-activities impact concrete physical environments and spatial locations, generating diverse outcomes ranging from ecological disruption and destruction to increased capacity for conservation.

Various scholars have drawn attention to the complex relationships between drug traffickers and transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) engaging in activities – both licit and illicit – that have direct consequences for the environment. TCOs and regional criminal organizations have promoted deforestation, unregulated mining, ranching, real estate investment, extortion, kidnapping, and assassination, as well as seeking to capture rents from industries ranging from palm oil to avocados to petroleum. Using terror and violence as tools, these narco-organizations have had major impacts on indigenous and peasant communities. Revolutionary insurgencies, self-defense militias, and paramilitary forces have been linked to conflicts deriving from the U.S.-led War on Drugs and the efforts by various states to root out production zones, decapitate cartels, and promote law and order. In some cases, the fear and avoidance of particular places associated with narco-activities has reduced extractive or otherwise destructive activities, leading to greater conservation outcomes than would otherwise have occurred.

The assembled panel will attempt to shed light on the differing conservation regimes generated within and across concrete narco-environments. Our goal is to gather ethnographically-grounded and theoretically-rich studies of the local and global narco-environments. First, panelists should speak to the fraught social and political relationships linking human communities and their neighboring environments to narco-activities and broader networks that might involve environmental NGOs, regional social movements, state conservation agencies, official and unofficial security forces (military, police, paramilitaries, etc.), or consumers. Second, panelists should address the cultural processes tied to these fraught socio-political relationships. How have actors generated new ways of perceiving, valuing, engaging, or appropriating the environment in relation to narco-activities? Third, panelists should discuss how these concrete sociocultural responses have generated variable regimes of conservation.

Potential topics include:

  • The impacts of the state-based militarization of drug policy (e.g. the War on Drugs), and associated regimes of policing and interdiction, on local landscapes and environmental conditions
  • The violent capturing of natural resources by TCOs, inter-cartel competition, and other organized trafficking activities
  • The ways that NGOs have initiated environmental restoration campaigns in response to resource extraction and depletion
  • Comparisons of environmental conditions and deforestation rates within private and public protected areas, indigenous territories, and narco-environments largely controlled by those involved in organized drug trafficking
  • Local communities’ responses to resource loss and physical violence, impacts on social positionality (class, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.), land tenure systems, traditional livelihoods, and traditional ecological knowledge

For consideration, email your paper abstract (100 words max.) to Marcos Mendoza ( or Carter Hunt ( by October 5, 2018. Please email either Marcos or Carter if you have any questions.


Student Profile: Olivia Marcus

Here is the latest installment of ADTSG’s student profiles feature!

These profiles are a way for the ADTSG membership to become acquainted with the next generation of anthropologists of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.  In this vein, each profile will introduce one graduate or undergraduate student to the group by asking him or her a series of questions related to his/her background and career aspirations in this field.

In this installment, we are profiling Olivia Marcus, a Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut.

Why did you choose to study anthropology?

I wanted to study everything when I entered university: medicine, political science, chemistry, economics, history, biology, and human behavior. Anthropology intrigued me as a discipline that considers these various disciplines in a particularly critical way. I had a particular interest in health, medicine, and well-being, especially as they relate to spirituality and various therapeutic techniques. It was my fascination with the HIV/AIDS epidemic through the anthropological lens that was a deciding factor for me to sway more toward the social science-public health work rather than approaches found in conventional biological science. My pressing question had always been: why do epidemics and health disparities still exist when western medicine is so effective? Also, what drives people to continue to use various other forms of therapeutic modalities and why do people persist in unhealthy behaviors when they ostensibly know better? Like many freshman in their first foray into the vast world of ethnography, I was deeply influenced by the political-economic explanations put forth by medical anthropologists such as Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Arthur Kleinman, and Paul Farmer, yet also was fortunate to stumble upon the works of Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Eduardo Luna, and E. Jean Langdon. From a young age I had an interest in consciousness and altered states, and upon discovering works in medical anthropology, political-economic critiques, and anthropology of consciousness, I found that my various interests (which also included studying languages, ethnobotany, and traveling) could be explored in a holistic, interconnected way.

Why are you interested in alcohol, drugs, and tobacco research?

Since childhood, I had a fascination with what role psychedelic drugs play in the search for so-called “higher” states of consciousness and deeper levels of self-knowledge. Growing up in Silicon Valley was definitely an influence in my process, since the culture and early access to the internet made it relatively easy to find people, books, and online resources with which I could explore these topics. When I learned that psychedelics were not only used for meditation and altering consciousness, but also for healing/medicinal purposes, I wanted to understand more about the different contexts in which this healing occurs, how many different traditions and methods exist, and the extent to which these methods are effective. I began my doctoral research with a lot of hesitancy toward using the word ‘drug’ and the term “drug research” to characterize my research since I focus on the use of plant medicines, specifically ayahuasca and the various other plants used among shamans in the Peruvian Amazon. I became interested in this context upon learning of the various therapeutic applications for both psychedelic and non-psychedelic plant preparations that are attracting a growing number of global audiences to the jungle. I find this work an exciting exploration of my interest in health-seeking behavior in a therapeutically plural environment, particularly for mental health and well-being.

What are your research plans for studying alcohol, drugs, and tobacco?

I am currently conducting fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon for my doctoral dissertation on the therapeutic uses of ayahuasca shamanism for mental health. I focus on the cathartic aspects of plant-based healing techniques (both psychoactive and non-psychoactive) for mental well-being, particularly in light of the many claims that ayahuasca may be beneficial for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I further question how people who come for healing in the Amazon re-conceptualize their perceptions of health and healing. In this context, ayahuasca and other psychedelic plants are just a few items in the vast medicine cabinet of the Amazon rainforest. However, as a growing profession in Peru and abroad, ayahuasca shamanism has emerged as an important focus in my research, particularly the processes of medicalization and professionalization that are part of the constant re-shaping of shamanic practices and their diffusion around the world.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

At this point, I feel so immersed in my fieldwork that it is tempting to say I would like to continue living down here and studying plants for years to come. But I have always had an applied orientation to anthropology and envisioned being able to bridge my fieldwork and dissertation research with public health applications. This would involve advocacy for drug policy reform in the US in an effort to facilitate more opportunities for good scientific inquiry into psychedelic substances with therapeutic potential. I also plan to continue the process of helping to design and conduct good studies that can provide evidence for the benefits and risks of psychedelic use, as well as the pros and cons of legalizing them only for medical or therapeutic use.

If you are a student and would like to be profiled for the ADTSG website, please contact ADTSG Student Liaison, Breanne Casper, at for more information!

ADTSG 2018 Graduate Student Travel Award

The Alcohol, Drugs, and Tobacco Study Group (ADTSG) of the Society for Medical Anthropology invites applications for a travel award to attend the 2018 AAA Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.  An award of $100 will be given to a graduate student presenting a paper at the conference that engages questions related to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, or other psychoactive substance use.  The ADTSG Graduate Student Travel Award is awarded annually on a competitive basis and reviewed by a committee comprised of ADTSG members.


  • Applicant must be currently enrolled in a graduate program
  • Applicant must be presenting a paper at the 2018 AAA Annual Meeting
  • Applicant must be a member of the Society for Medical Anthropology (see for instructions on how to join)


  • Submit your paper abstract, university affiliation, graduate program (M.A. or Ph.D.), and contact information (no additional materials are required) to Shana Harris, Chair of ADTSG, at
  • Applications must be received by 5:00PM EST on September 24, 2018, for full consideration.

Questions may be directed to Shana Harris at the above email address. We look forward to your submissions!

CDC Job Opportunity





Seeking a PhD-level researcher to work full-time at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA. The candidate will be hired by the Atlanta-Carolinas High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, but will maintain office space and work with CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, within the Overdose Prevention Branch, located at the Chamblee campus near Doraville.

Duties: The incumbent will work closely with CDC and 10 HIDTAs on the National Heroin Response Strategy, which encompasses 22 states and the District of Columbia, to identify effective or promising strategies that prevent opioid-related overdose at the community, state, or health-system level. Specifically, the selected scientist will:

(1) provide subject matter expertise on existing opioid overdose prevention strategies in the United States;
(2) assist in the promotion of and education around evidence-based opioid overdose prevention strategies, especially those endorsed in the CDC-branded document of the same name (soon to be available);
(3) assist in the development of annual “cornerstone projects,” which requires the coordination of public health and drug intelligence staff across all 22 HRS states and DC on a focused, coordinated research project;
(4) make site visits to up to 5 selected “HRS focus states” to understand local need and capacity to address the opioid epidemic;
(5) with CDC, HIDTA directors, and local coalitions, assist in the development of an innovative pilot project to address the opioid epidemic in each focus state;
(6) work intensively with each focus state to implement the pilot project;
(7) collaborate with assigned program evaluators, epidemiologists, and administrators to gather and analyze relevant data to monitor progress of pilot project implementation;
(8) report progress to date and findings to relevant stakeholders at conferences, meetings, webinars, and in writing;
(9) other tasks as required or merited.

Requirements: (1) PhD degree in hand at the time of application; (2) PhD in public health, behavioral science, or a social science; (3) a research or educational background related to substance use, opioid use disorder, or opioid overdose; (4) excellent oral and written communication skills; (5) demonstrated track record of working effectively across disciplines, community environments, or Agencies; (6) an understanding of public health; (7) demonstrated experience with both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

For more information: Please contact Dr. Rita Noonan at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control,, 770-488-1532.

Application procedure: Please submit your CV and 3 references to Ms. Jessica Wolff,, with the subject line “CDC-HIDTA research position.”

Student Profile: Misha Laurence

Here is the latest installment of ADTSG’s student profiles feature!

These profiles are a way for the ADTSG membership to become acquainted with the next generation of anthropologists of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.  In this vein, each profile will introduce one graduate or undergraduate student to the group by asking them a series of questions related to his/her background and career aspirations in this field.

In this installment, we are profiling Misha Laurence, a recent graduate from Grinnell College.

Why did you choose to study anthropology?

When I first went to college, I frankly had no idea what anthropology was, nor any passion for it, nor any predictions that I would end up loving it so much. Although I was always interested in human behavior, I started college with the intention of studying neuroscience (and possibly philosophy, in case I wanted to go to law school). At the time, it was honestly the only way I could conceive of studying human behavior. 

One upside of attending a liberal arts college like Grinnell College (which has rather flexible graduation requirements) is that I was actively encouraged to take classes in a variety of disciplines. Nonetheless, I was a little shocked when I was placed into an introductory anthropology course, as I do not remember marking that down on my registration form as a second or even a third choice. The course was taught by a professor whose research focuses on families. There didn’t seem to be anything in common between her interests in mine at first, but I unexpectedly found myself genuinely fascinated by class discussions. Quite a few students in that course, as I recall, were not actually intending to major in anthropology at the time, so people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds participated in our conversations. I was mostly a STEM-focused student with a passing familiarity with some philosophy at that point (mostly bioethics), and I actually felt my contributions were valued even as other people challenged them. So I decided I simply could not switch out of that course – it was that good.

What I did not predict was that taking this course actually threw me off-track for my intended biology major. If I wanted to continue in biology, my total time at college would have been more than four years, and I simply could not afford that kind of expense. I had a bit of a breakdown, and went to some anthropology professors for help. We eventually figured out that I had actually already fulfilled many of the prerequisites of the anthropology major by accident, and it would be easy for me to graduate on time in that major. After some introspection, I realized it would be much better, both short-term and in the long run, to graduate on-time in a field I actually enjoyed, instead of taking more time to complete a major I was beginning to get bored of anyway. (No offense to biology at all! It’s obviously an important and interesting field. It just wasn’t for me.) 

Additional anthropology courses confirmed to me that this was the right choice. I really liked anthropological perspectives on explaining why humans act and think the way they do. And the best part was that I did not have to discard my other interests or anything else I had learned so far – having multiple perspectives enriched what I got out of the experience. 

Why are you interested in alcohol, drugs, and tobacco research?

I entered the field of drug research through my interest in cannabis. However, I decided to study medical cannabis in particular, mostly because I have personal connections to it. Quite a few people I know use or have used cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes (though I personally think this dichotomy is a misleading one). In addition, I grew up in Washington State and have lived through legal battles about cannabis, and seen firsthand the profound implications it has had for Washington’s cultural, economic, and political landscape. And growing up with a chronic illness made me seriously consider at times if my symptoms would be relieved if I used cannabis. (At the time, though, I was too scared to bring up the topic to anyone or try it for myself.) 

To me, American politics always seemed obsessed with drugs of all kinds, including alcohol. Our fixation on drugs is connected with how we talk about class, crime, health, immigration, race, and so many other issues. Drugs, disability, and health are thus some excellent windows into American history and the American experience. Also, I was thrilled to realize that I was watching history unfold in real time. 

Medical cannabis in the United States is, in my opinion, an understudied topic in the social sciences. Most research I have seen focuses on “recreational cannabis” (though I personally consider the medical/recreational dichotomy a false one). This obscures the diversity of cannabis users and subtly reinforces the perception that cannabis use is a social problem or perhaps just a trivial concern, rather than a public health phenomenon concerning people’s very real suffering and pain. After some reflection, I think the same can be said for many other drugs as well, particularly in how they are connected to disability, which is connected in turn to our cultural perceptions of human worth and deep difference. 

What are your research plans for studying alcohol, drugs, and tobacco?

Before I graduated, I already decided that I didn’t want to go to graduate school right away. I want to gain firsthand experience actually working “in the field” of drug-related public health, and not just to be an anthropologist! Despite all the virtues of anthropological perspectives, I also feel the need to divert myself from it, at least for a while, and be more genuinely embedded in other contexts. 

That’s not to say I don’t care about anthropological research – I really do, and I plan to enter graduate school in a few years. But first I need to make up my mind about what kind of program would best suit my goals. (Medical anthropology? Applied anthropology? A dual anthropology PhD/MPH degree? I’m not really sure yet.) No matter how theoretical and abstract my research gets, I want it to be clearly and obviously translatable to people’s current practical needs. That’s why I’d love to focus on intersections between cannabis and other topics like class and disability, especially outside of the United States. Public health focuses more and more on underserved populations, and combined with drugs, that’s something I’d be very excited to be a part of. 

If you are a student and would like to be profiled for the ADTSG website, please contact ADTSG’s Student Liaison, Breanne Casper, at for more information!