The University of Newcastle, Australia
Not currently offered
Course code



10 units


3000 level

Course handbook


Using comparative material, this course will explore the social relationships and the cultural forms which drugs mediate. Ethnographic and historical material from Western and indigenous societies will be used to explore the particular social and cultural meanings of drug use. Attention will be given to the social history of drugs in the West and in Asia; the social and cultural rules governing drug use; drugs and social control; and the use of hallucinogens in relationship to shamanism, divination and healing in indigenous societies. The course will explore the cultural meanings attached to altered states of consciousness. The focus will not be so much on the scientific bio-medical aspects of drugs but on people's understandings of biology, embodiment and consciousness. Specific topics covered will vary from year to year. However, it is envisaged that possible topics will include: drugs and the exploration of alternative realities; drugs and identity; drugs and subcultures; the social distribution and control of drugs; the social and cultural effects of drugs; drugs and the financing of criminal activities and political conflicts; and the social use of alcohol in the West.


Not currently offered.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the course students will be able to:

1. An understanding of the different theoretical perspectives used to study cultural practices.

2. Knowledge of the way in which experiences are socially controlled and culturally formed.

3. An ability to critically analyse social practices and cultural representations.

4. Skills in writing academic essays, giving oral presentations, and policy research.


  1. Theories of the way in which experiences are symbolically and socially constituted.
  2. Theories of the social control and use of drugs.
  3. Classic ethnographic studies of how relationships are mediated by alternative realities.
  4. Contemporary ethnographic studies of drugs use.
  5. The political economy of drugs.

Assumed knowledge

40 units of study at 1000 level.

Assessment items

Essay: Essay 1

Tutorial / Laboratory Exercises: Tutorial paper

Essay: Essay 2