Student Profile: Jorge Mancillas

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 their background and career aspirations in this field.

In this installment, we are profiling Jorge Mancillas, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Why did you choose to use anthropological theory and methods in your research?

The anthropological approach of ethnography was the best way to descriptively and theoretically broach topics that involve communities and individuals I’ve been close to most of my life. I turned to the anthropological literature to negotiate with the “insider/outsider” dilemma, how one’s positionality as an ethnographer as an “insider” or “outsider—or a combination of both—affects the research process. In social science the research process is ostensibly unbiased and apolitical, but the research question is not, so that is why I chose to follow methodological principles from anthropologists such as Diego Vigil, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and Philippe Bourgois among many others who study urban violence, substance use, incarceration, and so on, and address their positionality in relation to the participants and community they’re studying and the impact of their research.

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

Right now, my research is focused on trauma in relation to gangs, and alcohol, drugs and tobacco are part of their larger obdurate context—there is a liquor store on almost every corner of the neighborhoods where there are gangs. The research on alcohol, drugs, and tobacco shows that substance use disorders disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, so I’m interested in building on existing research to study the ways in which alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are used as a form of self-medication amongst gang members to cope with traumatic loss.

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

Rehabilitation programs are not as accessible as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are in low-income communities of color, so my future research plans are to foreground this disparity and advocate for policy that is constructive rather than criminalizing. Policy has more often criminalized addiction and catalyzed cycles of incarceration that ultimately decimated the communities that the policies purport to support. This is most obvious if one looks at the legacy of the “war on drugs”. Any future research I plan to do must, therefore, include the historical impact of the criminalization of addiction and substance use disorders in order to influence policy that is beneficial for the communities that are most affected.

What do you hope to do following your dissertation defense?

Sleep. Following that, I hope to stay in academia and do work that allows me to shape public policy discourse on the issues I care about.

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