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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 a. Academic 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 physiological and psychological levels. 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. This course draws on sociology, anthropology, history, psychology, neuroscience and other disciplines to all you to examine intoxication as a practice embedded in social life.

b. Outline content

1. Introduction: How to make a drug
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? What is intoxication?

2. How to get Drunk without Drinking
In this session we examine the uses to which intoxicants are put and the ways their effects are shaped by material culture. We will be conducting an experiment in class so let me know if you are allergic to alcohol.

3. How to Eat Chocolate
This session examines the uses of drugs in rituals and in binding social groupings and affirming social bonds.

4. How to create a Drug Problem

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

5. How to Get Away With It

This session examines global crime and the concept of ¿normal crime¿.

6. How to Stop

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.

7. How to have fun

Society is often said to be one where experiences are consumed, rather than lived. This session examines the political economy of intoxication experiences.

8. How to change reality

This session examines psychedelics and the ontological, reality warping problems they pose.

9. How to do 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.

10. How to make quite a lot of money in the drug trade

In this session we discuss the present and future of the drug trade through a study of the darknet.

c. Student Learning experience

The course is hands-on, taught through lectures and seminars. You will conduct your own research into intoxication and write it up for assessment. It is taught through in-class activities and ethnographic work outside of class. I encourage you to make connections between theory, research and public policy. The course is cross-discipline and open to students with backgrounds in social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities.
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.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2017/18, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  44
Course Start Semester 2
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 Assessment will be by an online journal (25%) and either a long essay or a video essay (75%). The journal is your account of the fieldwork tasks. Essay questions are set by me, or you can design one yourself in consultation with me. The video essay will consist of a short ethnographic or documentary video made by you in place of the essay. The aim of the assessment is to allow you to develop your own ideas and topics, demonstrate your ability to analyse relevant issues and draw on and synthesise relevant evidence.

Formative assessment: As this is a new form of assessment you can submit a formative journal which will not be assessed but which I will give feedback on so you can learn what is expected. You may also submit an essay plan for comment.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Students will examine the patterns and practices of drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the UK and internationally
  2. Students will have the ability to evaluate different approaches to drug and alcohol control
  3. Students will be able to critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of various sociological, psychological, biological and anthropological approaches to and theories of substance use
  4. Students will be able to produce their own research on drug and alcohol use, in the form of a fieldwork journal
  5. Students will be able to apply their knowledge to emerging problems and challenges in the field
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 secretaryMrs Siobhan Carroll
Tel: (0131 6)50 3079
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