Hi, I’m Hilary. I’m an anthropology PhD student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. My Master’s research, which was the inception for this blog, was on on the subject of drug use, harm reduction and electronic dance music culture in Toronto. (I usually call it rave culture for short but I do know how contentious the term ‘rave’ can be.)
NOTE: My thesis is done! You can read it here.
I started this blog as a way of engaging with fellow ravers and the communities I’m working with, both online and in Toronto. Tell me when you think I’m right, wrong, missing something or completely full of shit. Academic research needs to be a much more transparent process, so this is my attempt at helping to bridge that gap.
The issue in plain English
When you buy MDMA, depending on who you’re getting it from, you’re probably not getting real, uncut MDMA. When you buy cocaine, you’re lucky if it’s 30% cocaine. Either way there’s really no way of knowing for sure exactly what is inside the powder you just bought. But people are still more likely to drink bottled water over tap water than they are to question the drugs they take. I want to talk to people to find out what’s missing in the equation. How can we get users to use test kits? How can we as a community hold dealers responsible? And what’s really the problem here – is it the drugs themselves, or is it prohibition that makes them dangerous? (Post-fieldwork edit: It’s totally prohibition, guys.)
Also, if millions of people are doing drugs, there must be a reason. Right? So then, what are the benefits of illicit drug use? It’s time we actually listened to users to hear what they have to say, because word on the street is that psychedelics and MDMA have some pretty interesting effects. Some people might even call them life-changing.
The issue in anthropological terms
Three broad thematic areas that I’m thinking about during my fieldwork:
- Vulnerability, risk and responsibility: For both individuals and groups deemed to be ‘at risk’, harm reduction practices can be seen as a simultaneous expression of both agency and manipulation. While harm reduction behaviours are engaged in as a form of agency to reduce feelings of vulnerability and enhance a sense of self-control, as a form of manipulation, harm reduction practices are implemented at the level of the individual body with the result that attention is deflected away from risk factors at the population level caused by structural inequalities. So I’ll be attempting to integrate a political economic approach to drug use and risk behaviour. (Thanks Merrill Singer.)
- Community engagement: In the interest of making sure my research is relevant to the people I’m studying, I’m going for a practically-oriented engagement with community needs and the broader sociopolitical discourse around harm reduction and Canadian health policy.
- Illegal vs. illegitimate: Where/how the concepts of ‘legality’ and ‘legitimacy’ overlap or not in lived experience, and the effects of this intersection on behaviour. Inspired by this interview I did with Ieva Jusionyte.
I have three main methods of data collection:
– Ethnographic participant-observation at raves
– Interviews with people with various levels of rave and drug experience
– Online participant-observation (mainly from /r/MDMA and /r/drugs) and an analysis of forum posts on advice to first-time users and reports of first-time stories
Note to any academics reading this:
My ability and desire to use colloquial language to express thoughts causes frequent internal struggles on my part, for fear of my ideas being perceived as less complex and insightful than they might be if presented in a drier, more academic and “professional” tone. I am perfectly capable of writing that way, and do so without much trouble when required, but frankly, I dislike doing it. The unspoken requirement to do so reflects white, upper-middle-class prejudice and pointlessly entrenched ways of thinking and aids in maintaining the gap between researchers and the public that is the bane of my existence. It’s also mind-numbingly boring. But most importantly in this context, it’s especially too boring for this format, a blog meant to be readable by your average English-speaking raver and/or drug user, who are quite intelligent but have little experience with obfuscatory anthropological jargon (lucky them).
However, given the intellectual insecurities that I (and, hopefully, lest I be the first person to actually deserve Impostor Syndrome, other young grad students) feel when surrounded by people so much more experienced and well-read than myself, I still feel the need to write this un-asked-for, pre-emptive assurance that my stylistic choices are indeed choices, intentionally made and not employed due to an inability on my part to engage with academic language.
I know that you know that complex language and complex ideas are not the same thing. But, y’know, just making sure.