Theses Doctoral

The Social Economy of Buying, Selling, Trading, and Consuming Drugs: A Comparison of Individual and Sub Cultural Strategies Among Methamphetamine Users and Dealers in Two Cities

Hunt, Kirsten Erin

The objective of this ethnographic study was to elucidate the individual and collective meanings and functions of drug taking for research subjects including methamphetamine users and dealers in drug subcultural groups recruited in two major cities. Participant observation was conducted in the two cities among methamphetamine users and dealers. In depth interviews were conducted with N=35 respondents in New York City and N=38 respondents in Los Angeles including injecting (IDUS) and non injecting drug users (NIUS). In this dissertation, I describe how the social identities and economic lives of participants in various sites have influenced the buying, selling, and consumption of drugs.

Comparative analyses of the meanings and practices of research subjects, including mixed income gay, straight and bisexual users in New York City and inner city ethnic and class minorities in Los Angeles, illustrate how the function of drug taking and drug effects can vary depending on the social and economic context and physical setting, the social location of users and the subcultural group that one belongs to. Variations were found in the structure and organization of methamphetamine distribution.

Among New York City respondents, freelance distributors catered to "binge" users that used the drug on weekends while clubbing and during commercial sex encounters and the co-evolution of the local methamphetamine market with the expanding online men who have sex with men (MSM) commercial sex industry and the New York City gay sex and club drug scene provided a collective identity that largely determined subjective drug effects. Sex workers operated as cultural brokers between buyers and sellers in the gay sex scene by facilitating sex parties and the closing and policing of public venues including clubs, bathhouses, and afterhours venues, largely shifted the buying and selling of drugs and sex indoors and in transitory public locations such as hotels.

Whereas buying, selling, trading and consuming methamphetamine were a cultural response to stigmatization as a sexual minority for many New York City respondents, among ethnic and class minorities in the Los Angeles sample, low income and transient dealers and users formed helping networks as a response to social economic marginalization and consumption and distribution were important aspects sustaining them. For these respondents, buying, selling, and consuming drugs were an adaptive response to instability in housing, unemployment, racism, and structural inequality including historical exclusion and discrimination on the basis of immigrant status and class oppression. This study suggests the importance of a contextual understanding of local drug markets and risk taking which are essential to the formation and development of risk reduction and prevention methods and policy.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Comitas, Lambros
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 17, 2012