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Anthropological perspectives on alcohol and drugs at the turn of the new millennium

Marshall, Mac; Ames, Genevieve M.; and Bennett, Linda A.

Social Science & Medicine, vol. 53, pgs. 153-164 (2001)

This introduction to the collection provides our thoughts on where alcohol and drug studies in anthropology are going as we enter the new millennium. After commenting briefly on each of the papers that comprise the rest of the volume, we discuss what we see as the most important and exciting issues in the future and give our views on what alcohol and drug studies can offer to medical anthropology, anthropology writ large, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, and the realm of public policy and practical affairs. We call for a continued study by anthropologists of the whole array of pharmacologically active substances used by humans in different parts of the world, whether or not such studies are situated within medical anthropology. We note that many of these substances have received little attention from anthropologists to date, quite strikingly so in the cases of substances such as marijuana and methamphetamines. We emphasize that most scholars working in the anthropology of alcohol and drugs are concerned with the application of their findings to social problems, and we note that this has been especially true of research on alcoholic beverages and injection drugs. This leads us to a discussion of anthropology's involvement in public health intervention and policy work in a variety of settings. Such involvement is shown to have informed anthropological theory (notably political economic approaches) and to have enriched the methodological toolkits and forms of data analysis anthropologists use. Perhaps more importantly, we argue that such multidisciplinary involvement in applied work is most likely to eventuate in theoretical progress in alcohol and drug studies, since theory in the social sciences is not bound to singular disciplinary approaches. Thus we advocate for a "hybrid vigor" in this specialty area in the years ahead.