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Trip hazards: drug-related crisis, peer support and control at transformational festivals

Ruane, Deirdre (2017) Trip hazards: drug-related crisis, peer support and control at transformational festivals. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:66263)

Language: English

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In the growing global scene surrounding transformational festivals, psychedelics and other 'party drugs' are used to facilitate experiences of connection and sociability which their devotees see as antidotes to the increasing isolation of society as a whole. Yet the openness and suggestibility that potentiates these experiences can also cause painful, alienating 'psychedelic crises'. Peer support projects within the scene attempt to address this problem by providing 'care spaces': comfortable, lower-stimulus areas within events where support workers known as 'sitters' seek to resolve service users' crises into reintegration with the collective while reducing any harm arising from their drug use. Yet within national and international drug policy frameworks which enforce prohibition and promote abstinence, the care spaces' support of harm reduction approaches to drug crisis care and their beliefs in the potential benefits of psychedelics can bring them into conflict with the authorities and with festival organisers wary of being seen to 'condone drugs'. This complex situation offers fresh perspectives on the relationships between 'party' drug use, drug policy and harm, yet these projects remain almost entirely unstudied.

This thesis examines the cultural role and value system of the transformational scene, and the distinctive patterns of drug use which occur there; investigates how volunteer psychedelic support/harm reduction (PS/HR) projects address the problem of the psychedelic crisis, and the role their identity as scene peers (and often drug users) plays in their work; and finally explores the turbulent intersection between the care spaces and the policy environments in which they operate. It uses a multimodal ethnographic approach centring on participant observation as a care space sitter at events in Portugal, the UK and the US, supplemented by 23 in-depth interviews with sitters and an online qualitative survey of 54 festivalgoers who had undergone a drug-related crisis.

It concludes that the festival environments are both shaped by, and designed to heighten, psychedelic experiences which many festivalgoers see as transformative and highly significant. Relatedly, scene members stress the importance of using the drugs 'respectfully' and responsibly. The desire to manifest such responsibility in a tangible way is a key motivation for sitters. Their identity as scene peers is a powerful asset in their work, helping them establish trust with visitors and assess their cases accurately while lending credibility to the drug information they distribute. However, in prohibition-based policy environments their identity as drug users can become a liability in dealings with the authorities, and networks of festival support staff can become fragmented by under-resourcing, miscommunication and the effects of stigma. Combined with ways in which punitive policy makes responsible drug use behaviours difficult to engage in, this serves to illuminate how drug policies nominally intended to increase the safety of events in fact often exacerbate harm and obstruct the efforts of those attempting to reduce it. In so doing, it extends current understandings of 'recreational' drug use and its contexts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Chatwin, Caroline
Thesis advisor: Ilan, Jonathan
Thesis advisor: Stevens, Alex
Uncontrolled keywords: festival culture, drug use, psychedelic support, harm reduction, drug policy, drug law enforcement
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2018 15:24 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 17:01 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Ruane, Deirdre.

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