Drugs and Society

Module code: SY3090

This module seeks to explore the core issues, debates and controversies surrounding the use of substances, commonly referred to by the pejorative term ‘drugs’, within contemporary society. The module has a developmental focus: it strives to maintain a consistent engagement with the long-term processes involved in the formation of prevailing understanding, uses, and experiences of certain psychoactive substances.

Despite the module’s coverage of research and theory from other disciplines, the primary focus is upon the development of sociological studies of drug use, and upon the implications of sociological work in this area for broader debates (conceptual, political, and policy) in the field more generally.

Topics covered

  • The question of what is a ‘drug’, and concomitant debates about the shifting historical classification and usage of intoxicants
  • The relationship between processes involved in the formation of centralised medical consciousness, and developments in the practices and policies relating to drug use
  • Issues surrounding the development of formal regulatory regimes, such as those underpinning the prohibition of alcohol in the US; ‘informal’ practices of self-regulation and governance; and regimens at the hinge between these (e.g. the ‘temperance’ movement)
  • Contemporary debates related to drug use, particularly those pertaining to ‘harm reduction’, substance control, and drug-related crime
  • Processes of ‘normalisation’ (of illicit drug use) and ‘denormalisation’ (of legal drugs) and their broader implications
  • The power effects of medicalised conceptions of ‘drug addiction’, particularly the disease metaphor of substance dependence
  • The conflicts and affinities between different forms of disciplinary expertise – particularly the ascendancy of neuroscientific conceptions of drug effects and reward pathways – in understanding drug dependency
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