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Righteous Dopefiend

Philippe Bourgois (Author), Jeffrey Schonberg (Author)


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This powerful study immerses the reader in the world of homelessness and drug addiction in the contemporary United States. For over a decade Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg followed a social network of two dozen heroin injectors and crack smokers on the streets of San Francisco, accompanying them as they scrambled to generate income through burglary, panhandling, recycling, and day labor. Righteous Dopefiend interweaves stunning black-and-white photographs with vivid dialogue, detailed field notes, and critical theoretical analysis. Its gripping narrative develops a cast of characters around the themes of violence, race relations, sexuality, family trauma, embodied suffering, social inequality, and power relations. The result is a dispassionate chronicle of survival, loss, caring, and hope rooted in the addicts' determination to hang on for one more day and one more "fix" through a "moral economy of sharing" that precariously balances mutual solidarity and interpersonal betrayal.

Consider this book for course use:

"I've just completed reading about your wonderful work on Potrero Ave. in Righteous Dopefiend. I worked for 5 years as the clinical supervisor a mental health program at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House. I'm a Black, licensed psychologist who has a private practice and has just begun teaching at Alliant University which is both exciting and daunting. I have also been working at a methadone clinic since 1990 with a population which operates in the "gray zone". My plan is to use your Potrero Ave. book and Gabor Mate's "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" to challenge my grad student's understanding of substance abuse and the suffering imposed by the State on the poor and disadvantaged who also abuse drugs. I'm just writing to thank you for your work and your attempt to increase the level of humanity in the misinformed and oblivious "others" who fail to acknowledge the suffering cause by criminalizing drug use." —Allie W. Edwards, PhD, Licensed Psychologist

"I have rarely had the kind of response to a book as I have had with Righteous Dopefiend this semester—a couple of students talked about how they came to care for the people—the 'characters'—one said even though he knew one of the characters was going to die (he flipped forward), he was "upset' when he read of his death; another spoke of her frustration with Tina, especially as Jeff is taking her to rehab. Powerful stuff." —Steve Ferzacca, University of Lethbridge

"Righteous Dopefield was so well written and interesting that I couldn't put it down. What a great book!! I found it so fascinating on so many levels. Firstly, it gave the homeless people a voice by telling their stories. It was terrible to read about all of the contradicting political initiatives and all of the policies that criminalised the homeless. Interesting particularly as I lived in SF during the time of a lot of those horrible policies were in effect." —Lisa Thorsen, reader in Australia

"In this powerful book Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg combine photography and close ethnography to provide a vivid window into the lives of people struggling with homelessness and drug addiction in San Francisco. Illuminating not only suffering, but also care and community, the work traces the often woeful inadequacies of medical, welfare, and policing establishments in assisting this vulnerable population, urging engagement with public policy to change these conditions." —Peter Redfield, Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"...I am a sophomore at Mount Holyoke College. I am an anthropology major and an urban studies minor, and I am a huge fan of yours (Bourgois). . . . I am reading [Righteous Dopefiend] now, around homework, and . . . I LOVE IT. . . . One of my classes is using Righteous Dopefiend as an assigned text! I cannot wait to delve even deeper and to have my thinking on what I read pushed further." —Lucy Watson, student at Mount Holyoke

"I read your book with great interest and although the material was at times difficult I'm so happy I did. I have a new found compassion for people who find themselves in situations like the ones in your book. Your book showed me how those who are addicted are not that different from the rest of us "normal" people, and in some cases they have more "heart".

I was having a conversation with my barber one day and somehow we got talking about addiction, heroin, and methadone. As soon as I got in my car after the haircut you were on WHYY talking about your book. Since I had to wait to get my car inspected, I got to hear the rest of the radio show. I told my wife about it and she got me the book for Christmas. It seems I was fated to read you book. At first I was a little reluctant to read it because of the difficult subject matter. I just lost my 53 year old brother to alcohol and drug addiction last November. So much of your book reminded me of him and his story. He was at times addicted to heroin but eventually switched over to alcohol and prescription drugs due to an injury from about 30 years ago. Of course, my parents and I tried many things over the years to try to help him but we were ultimately unsuccessful. He went through a couple of clean lucid periods, but it didn't last. I feel as though I understand him more after your book.

Thank you for your work. It's important." —Randy Marsola, Ewing, New Jersey

"I wanted to say how deeply affecting the book was. I have been researching and writing in the area of the sociology of drugs and alcohol for many years, but few things have affected me quite as much. In particular the nexus of race, gender and health and welfare systems that produced that incredible experience of not being able to get primary health care, but being hooked up to high tech machines when close to death was so clearly spelt out. For years I lived with people who injected and I knew that certain rituals around injecting were very culturally defined so that skin popping was a rare phenomenon here, but it did not occur to me that in a country so divided along race lines as the USA, all using rituals are also raced; even as I knew women who in a lifetime of injecting never injected themselves. If injecting is gendered then obviously it would be raced as well." —Dr. Grazyna Zajdow, School of History, Heritage and Society, Deakin University
Introduction: A Theory of Lumpen Abuse

1. Intimate Apartheid
2. Falling in Love
3. A Community of Addicted Bodies
4. Childhoods
5. Making Money
6. Parenting
7. Male Love
8. Everyday Addicts
9. Treatment

Conclusion: Critically Applied Public Anthropology
Notes on the Photographs
Philippe Bourgois is Richard Perry University Professor of Anthropology and Family and Community Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Jeff Schonberg is a photographer and a graduate student in medical anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco.
“A deeply nuanced picture of a population that cannot escape social reprobation, but deserves social inclusion. . . . The collage of case studies, field notes, personal narratives and photography is nothing short of enthralling.”—Publishers Weekly
“Get this book and read it. If you're interested in homelessness, addiction, or in the public health issues surrounding IV drug use, this is an excellent source of information. The authors treat their subject brilliantly and with great compassion. It is also a hell of a story, and it's local. These people walk by you every day and should not remain invisible.”—San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Leaders and readers alike should pay attention to - and heed its warnings and advice. . . . Unflinching and objective. . . . Must be read - and seen.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The authors dare you to ignore the subculture in their field notes and arresting black-and-white images, urging that our failed social systems need repairing and we cannot continue to let these outliers remain invisible.”—Utne
“Truly remarkable book.”—Grazyna Zajdow Arena Magazine
“Righteous Dopefiend is quite simply one of the most original and important works of its kind. . . . It is a pathbreaking photo-ethnography, powerful in presentation, content and scope. . . . A must-read, Righteous Dopefiend will rock the world of the sheltered middle class and shed new light on the pervasive structural inequalities plaguing contemporary society.”—Elijah Anderson, author of Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community. Philadelphia Inquirer
“With a combination of photographs, dialogue, field notes and critical theory, the book provides a detailed analysis of the social structure of an underground society in contemporary America.”—Roof Magazine
“This book offers as complete and disturbing a view as can be had of just how awful and intractable street life in San Francisco can get.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Powerfully candid.”—Zocalo (The Public Square Blog)
"Based on over a decade of field research, Righteous Dopefiend is a searing portrait of the lives of homeless injection drug users in San Francisco and an analysis of the powerful forces that shape their lives. ...This book brings into our visual and moral field the plight of those whom we have condemned to the margins, documenting the struggle that is the condition of their daily existence and exploring the social structures that enforce their suffering." —Angela Garcia, The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along the Rio Grande

"Calling this book ethnography would be like calling The Wire a cop show: what comes roaring out of its pages is almost as visceral and devastating as spending a night in 'the hole' itself."—Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

"Plunge beneath the surface of America's no-man's lands. Find in the dead-end alleyways, storage lots, and overgrown embankments the terrifying but strangely ordered world of homeless heroin injectors. This book will test your cultural relativism to destruction, but along the way you will learn a great deal about destitution, about homelessness, about addiction, and about violence at all levels. These dopefiends are 'made in America'."—Paul Willis, author of Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, and co-founding editor of Ethnography

"Philippe Bourgois and Jeff Schonberg provide a riveting narrative of the daily struggles for survival of homeless people with a physical and emotional addiction to heroin. The authors' poignant account of these experiences features sophisticated analytic themes that enable them insightfully to integrate discussions of agency and moral responsibility on the part of homeless addicts with an analysis of the powerful structural forces that shape the addicts' lives. Righteous Dopefiend is a must-read."—William Julius Wilson, author of More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City

“Bourgois and Schonberg deliver luminous images and intimate portraits of unforgettable Dickensian characters—a host of late-modern hobos, hustlers, dumpster divers, and sweet-talking jivers—whose addiction consigns them to lives of public ignominy and private pleasures transacted under the concrete freeway overpasses of a totally indifferent San Francisco. This tough book is a must-read for all.”—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of Death Without Weeping

“If Pierre Bourdieu, George Orwell, and Walker Evans had met in a homeless encampment under a San Francisco highway, they could not have produced a more penetrating portrait of America's urban outcasts than Righteous Dopefiend. Fusing ethnography, photography, and social theory, Bourgois and Schonberg take the reader on the frantic roller coaster ride of daily subsistence among a clique of indigent heroin addicts. This searing anthropology of everyday violence in the underbelly of the American metropolis will challenge social scientists and public health experts, stun lay readers, and shame public officials oblivious to the social dereliction their failed policies are spawning.”—Loïc Wacquant, author of Urban Outcasts and Punishing the Poor

Anthony Leeds Prize in Urban Anthropology, Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology of the Americ

Shortlisted for the Gregory Bateson Book Prize, Society for Cultural Anthropology

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