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41 pages 1 hour read

Philippe Bourgois, Jeffrey Schonberg

Righteous Dopefiend

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2008

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg, published in 2009, is a photo-ethnography on the lived experience of a marginalized population of people going through homelessness and drug addiction (primarily alcohol, crack, and heroin) in an area dubbed Edgewater Boulevard in San Francisco, California. Over 12 years, the anthropologists got to know the people who make up this population and what brought them to their current position. The work is in the field of applied anthropology, which moves the anthropological study of people beyond the world of theory into practical application in the real world. As this book was published, the US was reaping the outcomes of neoliberal policies and the socio-economic consequences of globalization were becoming increasingly evident. The fieldwork started in 1994 and continued into the early period of the Great Recession in 2006. It closely follows the lives of its subjects while situating their experiences within the broader framework of socio-economic dynamics in systems and institutions, as well as in theories of governance and power. By juxtaposing the perspective of the homeless, addicted population with anthropology theory, the work brings to vivid life political and academic debates surrounding neoliberal ideals by revealing their human cost.

This book provides a bridge between academia and public discourse, a less common mode of research dissemination as researchers generally publish peer-reviewed articles rather than books. Philippe Bourgois’ background in medical anthropology and research interests in HIV among urban indigent populations lends itself to the physical health aspects of addiction and poverty, while Jeffrey Schonberg, a graduate student under Bourgois during the research, brings the visual anthropology elements to the book. The combination of theory, field notes, ethnographic descriptions, recordings, and photography situates the reader close to the lives of the homeless and drug-addicted interlocutors while providing the sociocultural, political, and economic background to understand how these people reached their current position. The book was well received, winning the 2010 Anthony Leeds Prize for Urban Anthropology, and furthered the movement toward humanizing drug-addicted people by repositioning their condition to decrease judgement and criminalization in favor of highlighting structural issues such as severe budget cuts to social services and the heavy hand of law enforcement.

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