Student Profile: Ben Scher

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 Ben Scher, a M.A. student from the University of Waterloo.

Why did you choose to study anthropology?

Whilst anthropology was not offered at my high school, I was always passionate about history, politics, and human geography. Once I began my undergraduate degree at Durham University in the UK, I was immediately captured by anthropology’s ability to include these elements of the human story into one discipline. Having majored in anthropology and philosophy, when it came time to choose which discipline I wanted to write my thesis on, conducting hands-on research through the form of ethnography was extremely appealing. Getting this opportunity in my undergraduate degree motivated me to continue my studies and pursue an M.A.

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

Mind-altering substances, illicit or not, have been and will continue to be present in human societies, regardless of what conservative politicians try and enact through the “War on Drugs.” Thus, it is imperative that the research community is at the center of understanding how the presence of substances can be managed in the safest and most logical way possible. In producing research, credible evidence can drive progressive, evidence-based policies. In light of the current opioid epidemic in North America, I am passionate about conducting research evaluating both the benefits of supervised consumption sites and the legislation needed in order to implement them into communities in need.

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

For my M.A. research, this past summer I completed 5 months of ethnographic fieldwork at one of the supervised consumption sites in Vancouver. The purpose of this research is to analyze the ways in which police impact the daily lives of supervised consumption site users and ultimately inform on police practices that best serve the community in need of this service. Whilst in the last decade, police practices in the city have been updated to better address the increase in overdose rates, the findings of this study suggest that years of police harassment and subsequent distrust of this community still renders perceived police presence to be a barrier to everyday harm reduction practices sought out by illicit substance users. Ultimately the aim of this study is to contribute towards the body of literature uncovering the unintended structural violence produced by policing and shed light on potential solutions.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I am currently in the process of applying for Ph.D. programs in both the fields of social policy and anthropology. The aim of my doctoral research is to continue to conduct research on supervised consumption sites with the hope of producing research that can aid in the implementation of progressive public policy surrounding drug use and in particular aiding in solutions to the current overdose rates in North America.

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