Death and paradise - no-one gets in alive: the anthropological re-imagining of psychedelic drug use

Henry Cox
Session slots:

Short abstract:

Research into psychedelic drugs, including plant based and synthetic substances, has found new force with medical discoveries and legal reforms. What new cultural dynamics does the rebirth of popular and medical interest in psychedelics reflect? Has the rebirth of psychedelic science been met with a renewed anthropological interest in consciousness, or does it point to the death of psychedelic anthropology?

Long abstract:

Historically, anthropology has made significant contributions to understanding the social and health benefits of culturally embedded psychedelic drug use (e.g. Coult 1966; Harner 1968; Taussig 1987; Langlitz 2013), and the cultural entrainment of consciousness (e.g. Laughlin 2001). Findings from the last ten years of medical research with MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine and ayahuasca in Peru, Chile, Brazil, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, for instance, demonstrate the healing potential of these substances across a range of disorders and social settings. However, as psychedelic research moves from the field to the lab, the new science of psychedelics, much like the new science of consciousness, reproduces the Cartesian contract that relegates cultural experience to externality, or assumes a hyper-relativism of drug experience (e.g. Labate 2015). Accelerated research in medical fields appears certain, but the contributions of anthropologists to understanding the cultural and consciousness potential of psychedelics seem far less clear. This panel/round-table critically examines the epistemological foundations of the new psychedelic science in an attempt to re-imagine opportunities for future ethnographic endeavours. The panel elicits discussion on the challenges and opportunities of using ethnographic methods for studying the varieties of human consciousness, and of doing ethnography during different modes of consciousness. The panel aims to open a forum for considering how anthropological research might make greater contributions to the new science of psychedelics, and to debates in the philosophy of mind and the science of consciousness more broadly.