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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Sociology

Undergraduate Course: Sociology of Intoxication (SCIL10054)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThe course examines what intoxication is, why people seek it out, and why it is often seen as a problem. It covers all licit and illicit drugs, and any other substances taken with the intention of altering the user's consciousness. In the course you will explore pleasure, deviance, abstinence, illicit leisure, socially obligatory drinking, extreme intoxication, taste and social distinction, the cultural construction of public problems, addiction and alcoholism, risk and enhancement. You will use evidence from the UK and around the world and will compare different cultures and contexts. You will conduct your own small research tasks which you will discuss in class and write up in an assessed blog. These tasks include: writing an ethnographic account of interactions in a party, club, pub or cafe; analysing illicit drug seizures by police; and interpreting drug use rituals. Class discussions are led by the topics, themes and examples that students come up with. Teaching is also supported by my Twitter feed, @socintox, which I use to alert the class to relevant resources and summarise key points in class discussions.
Course description Political and media discourses only consider intoxication when it manifests as a social problem, treating its effects as accidental or incidental. This course aims to address two significant gaps in our thinking on this topic. First, we mostly think of the experience of intoxication ¿ being drunk, getting high and so on ¿ as happening largely at a physiological level. The content and construction of the experience of intoxication itself seems to be thought of as off-limits to sociological investigation and theorising, as irrelevant, or as an unfortunate and unwanted side effect. The course will explore the social factors involved in the generation of different experiences of intoxication. Second, when we do consider intoxication as worthy of study we turn it into a problem, rather than seeing it as a normal social practice, as much bounded by rules and norms as any other activity.

Instead, the course will examine intoxication as a practice embedded in social life.

1. Introduction: How Drugs Become Drugs

In this session we will discuss the questions: What is a drug? Why do people use them? How do some substances become drugs and others do not? and, What is intoxication?

2. Cultural Practices

In this session we examine the uses to which intoxicants are put and the ways their effects are shaped by material culture.

3. Ritual, Obligation and Distinction

This session examines the uses of drugs in rituals and in binding social groupings and affirming social bonds

4. Drug Problems or Problem Drugs?

This session explores the moral regulation of problem drugs and the discursive generation of problem people.

5. Addiction, Triumph of Body over Mind?

It is possible to speak of some forms of dependency as socially sanctioned, caffeine addiction being a fairly benign example. Much recent academic writing on drugs has taken care to separate ¿problem¿ from ¿recreational¿ drug use. However, it has not really examined where the boundary between the two lies, and has tended to treat that separation as quite rigid whereas it is a mutable, porous boundary which is studied in this session.

6. Alcohol and Economies of Pleasure

The postmodern society is often said to be one where experiences are consumed, rather than lived. This session examines the political economy of intoxication experiences. Please note, alcohol is just one focus of this and you do not have to concentrate on that in your homework task.

7. Psychedelics and Waking Dreams

This session explores the use of psychedelic drugs to explore, enhance or depart from consciousness. It examines why some psychedelic experiences are given a higher social status than others, and what the use of psychedelics tells us about consciousness in modern society.

8. Heroin, Crack and Street Ethnography

In this session we examine ethnographies with heroin and crack users. We discuss why heroin and crack are especially stigmatised drugs, the different subcultures that surround them, and the limits of research with users.

9. Prohibition, Drug Control and Cognitive Liberty

In this session we will debate the history and effectiveness of various forms of prohibition.

10. Conditioning, Medicalisation and Enhancement

This final session looks to the future and the institutionalised use of drugs to manage the self.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 Sociology or closely related courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2014/15, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  None
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 20, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 176 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) A combination of an online journal (25%) and long essay (75%)OR video diary (75%)
Feedback Not entered
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
In the course you will:

Examine the patterns and practices of drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the UK and internationally.

Examine how some private substance use troubles become public problems, with regard to: addiction; alcoholism; binge drinking; smoking hazards.

Discuss the uses and merits of different forms of drug control.

Examine the strengths and weaknesses of various sociological, psychological, biological and anthropological approaches to and theories of substance use.

Explore the research base, the methods used to research substance use and limitations with them.

Produce your own sociological journal reflecting on the issues raised in the course.
Reading List
I encourage you to read across disciplines, and some of the best work on intoxication is historical, anthropological and journalistic. A few examples are: Marshall, Mac (1979) Beliefs, Behaviors, & Alcoholic Beverages: A Cross-cultural Survey, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan; Schivelbusch, W. (1992) Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants, London, Vintage/Random House; Walton, Stuart (2001) Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication, London, Penguin; and Courtwright, David (2001) Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World, London, Harvard University Press.

Two good sociological texts on regulation and control of illicit drugs are Blackman, Shane (2004) Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Maidenhead, Open University Press; and Barton, Adam (2003) Illicit Drugs: Use and Control, London, Routledge. Two wide ranging edited collections are: Goldberg, Ray (ed.) (2008) Taking Sides: Clashing views in drugs and society, 8th ed. Boston, McGraw-Hill Higher Education; and Manning, Paul (2007) Drugs and Popular Culture: Drugs, Media and Identity in Contemporary Society, Cullompton, Willan Publishing. You can also look at Bancroft, Angus (2009) Drugs, Intoxication and Society, Cambridge, Polity Press, which emerged from teaching this course.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills You will learn the following skills:
Ethnographic observation and analysis
Interpretation of population trends
Compare and evaluate evidence
Interpretation of media accounts
Assess social problems and policy responses Use research evidence to make policy proposals
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Angus Bancroft
Tel: (0131 6)50 6642
Course secretaryMiss Christine Lee
Tel: (0131 6)50 4457
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