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Unit information: Stimulating Anthropology: Drugs and Society in 2021/22

Unit name Stimulating Anthropology: Drugs and Society
Unit code ARCH30040
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Carrier
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

The use of stimulants and intoxicants – ‘drugs’ – permeate all human societies, and a vast range of substances from coffee to cocaine are used in a wide variety of social contexts. This unit explores drug use across different cultures and societies. It shows how anthropological approaches to drugs deepen understandings of these substances and their pharmacology through drawing out the socio-cultural and political economic contexts in which they are enmeshed. Emphasis is placed on anthropological approaches to drug use, and students are introduced to a number of key texts and films in the discipline that focus on drugs, including alcohol and other ‘licit’ drugs. A key question asked in the unit is what anthropology can learn from the study of these substances, exploring how they give purchase on a range of anthropological themes.

The unit's aims are:

  • To develop an understanding of the role of stimulants and intoxicants in human society
  • To introduce students to anthropological approaches to the study of these substances
  • To understand how such approaches contrast with approaches in other disciplines, and the importance of interdisciplinary ‘biocultural’ approaches
  • To engage critically with key texts in anthropology
  • To understand the strengths and weaknesses of an ethnographic approach in studying the illicit
  • To convey how case-studies of stimulants and intoxicants speak to much broader themes in anthropology, from consumption to development

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, successful students will be able to:

1) Demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the importance of drugs in contemporary society and the policy and discourse that surrounds them

2) Discuss critically the historical development of anthropological approaches to the study of drugs

3) Explain and evaluate how social scientists study drugs, and, in particular, assess the advantages and limitations of an ethnographic approach

4) Critically evaluate the potential for the study of drugs to offer broader anthropological insight

5) Demonstrate a critical understanding of how social, cultural and political processes shape the trade and use of such substances

Teaching Information

Weekly lectures, plus class work, group presentation and film screenings, supported by self-directed activities.

Assessment Information

Summative assessment: E-blog post, 1000 words (25%, ILOs 1-4)

Summative assessment: 1 x 3000-word essay (75%) (ILOs 1,2,3, 4 and 5)


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. ARCH30040).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.