Category Archives: Conference Reports

2013 ADTSG Recap

Dear ADTSG members,goodbye 2013

It is the end of January and I think it is finally safe to say that 2013 was a successful year for ADTSG. The website has been on a bit of a hiatus over the last few months since the AAA meetings due to final exams and the holidays, but we hope to be able to start updating more often. In this post, I want to recap on a few points from the AAA meetings and solicit some suggestions/help from our membership moving forward in in the new year.

AAA Roundtable: In 2012, ADTSG put out what must have been a record number of panels for the AAA meetings with excellent attendance. This year, we decided to try something different and organized a roundtable on public engagement with some of our very own experts in the field of drug studies: Helena Hansen, Mimi Nichter, Bryan Page, Will Garriott, Daniel Lende. Despite the Wednesday evening time slot, it was well attended and we generated some great questions for our participants both before the session and during the Q&A period. Thanks so much to everyone who made it out, and a special thanks to our participants, our moderator Roland Moore, as well as Shana Harris (and myself) for organizing this event. We are in the process of writing a round table review so look for that in the near future.

Communications: Once again, ADTSG made a strong impression during the SIG chairs meeting with new SMA president, Linda Garro. We continue to be at the forefront of leveraging digital technology, increasing visibility and growing our membership – but there is always room for improvement. In particular, we are interested in increasing our social media presence and determining the best way to facilitate discussions/collaboration among group members. Although this blog has been a great way for us to reach our membership, we are ready to explore new mechanisms to stimulate conversation between conferences. Part of addressing this might include developing a communications subcommittee who can brainstorm and implement such a plan of action. If you have any ideas or would like to spearhead something like this, please email me at

SMA Takes a Stand: As we discussed last year, the SMA is requesting all SIGs to create a public policy statement as part of the SMA Takes a Stand Program. We have tentatively selected the issue of the decriminalization/legalization of Marijuana. Bryan Page has agreed to take lead on this project but we would like to recruit at least 3-4 more members to help draft this statement. If you are interested in being involved in the process, please send me an email and I will put you all in touch.

AAA 2014 events: During the ADTSG business meeting, we began brainstorming ideas for AAA 2014. Some potential events included:

  • Organizing a poster session on the Anthropology of Drugs and public engagement (with contributions from graduate and undergraduate students)
  • A panel focusing on the role of professionals in the treatment of drug use
  • A panel or roundtable looking on how other fields are examining ADT issues and inviting experts already located in the D.C. area
  • A panel or posters examining ADT issues from across the four subfields of Anthropology
  • Teaming up with some of the other AAA sections/groups like the Society for Psychological Anthropology, the Association for Politial and Legal Anthropology to co-sponsor an event

If you are interested in any or all of these proposals, or would like to help organize an event for the 2014 AAA, please contact me ASAP. It would be great to see a number of these come to fruition but we need your help to make it happen!

Graduate Student Paper Prize: Finally, we had a wonderful response to our annual graduate student paper prize this year. Our winner was Nayantara Sheoran for her paper, “Stratified Contraception: Imagined Cosmopolitanism versus Lived Tangibility of Emergency Contraceptive Pills in Contemporary India”. Our honorable mention was Marc Blainey for his paper, “Forbidden Therapy: Santo Daime & the Disputed Status of Entheogens in Western Society”. Thanks to Roland Moore, Shana Harris and Lee Hoffer for their hard work reading and offering feedback on these fantastic papers. We plan to offer this prize again this year so if you are interested in serving as a judge, please contact me for details.

As I close this post, I realize that there is a lot to be proud of – but there is even more we can do to make the most out of the networks and resources provided by this study group. In the coming weeks, I will be sending out some  systematic requests to the group for help on these and other projects. Also, if you have any announcements you would like us to post, please send them to the gmail account. Thanks again for your continued engagement with ADTSG – I look forward to hearing from you and exploring new ways to improve your member experience.

Taz Karim

Complexity at the CDP Conference

Complexity: Researching alcohol and other drugs in a multiple world

Contemporary Drug Problems Conference

Aarhus University, Denmark

21-23 August 2013

The title says it all. This past August, researchers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs came together in Denmark for an exciting international and interdisciplinary conference. The conference theme – complexity – was met on several levels. Researchers came from multiple disciplines, multiple institutions, and multiple home countries to consider complexity not only in the experiences and contexts of drug users or in societal, institutional, and psychological constructions of addiction, but to critically examine the translatability of “complexity” to a variety of intervention and outreach settings, the challenges associated with funding research projects steeped in the very notion of “complexity,” and the increasingly complex research methodologies that may ultimately be necessary to effectively elucidate it. I was honored to attend and even more honored to present a paper at this conference; it’s left me inspired for collaboration and excited to get started on future research projects!

Though the conference was small enough that a junior scholar like myself had the chance to talk one-on-one and at length with the likes of Lisa Maher, Nancy Campbell, David Moore and many others, it was big enough that I was unable to attend every paper. So, you can see the full conference program and abstracts here, but I’ll use this blog space to think a bit about the broader theme of complexity and why this theme is especially relevant to the anthropology of drugs.

The conference’s keynote speakers laid the foundation for the conference: Nancy Campbell pointed out that most intervention professionals and funders simply don’t want or know how to navigate the multitude of unknown and unpredictable accompaniments to complexity but noted that academics are increasingly looking for ways to apply interdisciplinary collaborations to meet these challenges; Lisa Maher asked, “What do we sacrifice in trying to reduce findings to translatable forms accessible by policy and intervention professionals?” and highlighted the need for research approaches that truly integrate methodologies toward the end of understanding complexity; and Kane Race applied the frame of emergent causation to dispute the common trend in clinical, epidemiological, and health evaluation research of treating drug use, drug experiences, and addiction, as resulting from linear pathways.

As a discipline, anthropology is poised to address many of these challenges. Its very strength can be found in its holism and abundance of tools – both methodlogical and theoretical – for illuminating multiple levels, for situating subjective experience and individual practice in many overlapping and intersecting contexts. In fact, many anthropologists who study the use of drugs, both licit and illicit, already use the best of the discipline to explore the experiences, behaviors, and subjectivities of users. One could argue that it is an anthropological approach that has brought much drug research forward to where it is today. For decades, medical anthropologists have found themselves a sole social scientist in a medical school or department full of psychiatrists, and, historically, our discipline has been met with resistance. However, as an interdisciplinary researcher, I find that the ethnographic approach is increasingly appreciated by the epidemiologists and sociologists I encounter on a regular basis. Nancy Campbell pointed out that more and more neurologists and other “hard” scientists actively seek to engage with social scientists in order to better understand why our brains respond the way they do, what this looks like in context, and what can be done about it. Accomplished ethnographers such as Lisa Maher and Lee Hoffer find themselves working with mathematical modelers in an effort to achieve both thick description and greater generalizability. Steve Koester works with pharmacologist and biologist, Robert Heimer, to explore the actual risk behind injection drug users’ risk practices (observed in ethnographic context) by conducting controlled experiments in the lab.

This type of work may be the way forward for the study of drugs, and anthropologists may be uniquely prepared to engage in it. The Contemporary Drug Problems conference that inspired this post highlighted the importance of international and interdisciplinary conversations and the need to acknowledge and manage complexity rather than hide behind or ignore it. For decades, our own discipline has grappled with the challenge of balancing intimate knowledge of individuals’ subjectivities and experiences with the situated complexity of the multi-level contexts in which they manifest. As such, our answers may not be simple; they will likely be very complex. Perhaps through continued engagement with researchers and activists outside of anthropology, we can work together to address complex realities with practical solutions.

ADTSG at AAA 2012 in San Francisco!

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Juliet Lee presenting at AAA 2013

Papers in these panels demonstrated cohesiveness, exploring notions of stigma, social construction, and cultural and political economic contexts of drugs, drug use, and addiction. Meeting panelist Juliet Lee and discussant Geoffrey Hunt’s recommended standard for research on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, the papers on these panels showcased one of the greatest strengths of anthropologists in this field: the successful integration of research on licit and illicit drugs, providing a venue for the exploration of how and by whom the boundaries and definitions of drug use and addiction are constructed, how they change, and how they are navigated by users, the medical and psychiatric communities, and even researchers. En route to addressing these common themes, each paper took a unique approach. Continue reading

2012 Wrap Up

Hello fellow ADTSG members,

I hope everyone is having a wonderful new year. I wanted to take a moment to fill everyone in on some of the highlights from our activities at the AAA meetings in San Francisco last fall as well as our plans for 2013.

Special Interest Group Chairs Meeting

On Thursday morning, Roland Moore and I attended the SMA’s special interest group (SIG) chairs meeting with SMA President, Doug Feldman. As we went around the room, each of the representatives discussed the state of their group and the various projects they were working on. I was so proud to be able to share the success of ADTSG with the group, especially in terms of conference presence, social media development, and an invested membership.  In fact, our group has done so well, Roland and I were able to offer advice to the other SIG chairs on strategies to build infrastructure for their own groups such as a paper prize and online blog. We were also given some ideas about potential projects such as a mentorship program or a book prize that we are considering for 2013. I want to commend our group for having such a diversity membership of senior and junior members – this quality clearly sets us apart from some of the other groups who were struggling with ways to retain their founding members while attracting a new generation of scholars. Continue reading