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Over the course of the last decades, knowledge accumulated on the topic of drugs everywhere has developed considerably. However, even if the increase in available data has enabled a better description of this phenomenon, there still remains a long way to go to explain its multiple facets. It is for this reason that it today seems useful to examine the links connecting «drugs» and «cultures», which is the topic of the international conference organized at the initiative of the French monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (OFDT) in partnership with the Public Health Chair at Sciences Po.

Studying the interrelationship between «drugs» and «cultures» implies studying a wide range of issues, including the concrete practices of consumption as well as the processes underpinning the social and political interpretation of this phenomenon, it being understood that such practices and interpretations may radically differ from one society to another, and even from one group of users to another. In the current context of the supposed trend towards a standardization of cultures, one has to probe the great variability of patterns of use and the ways of apprehending them according to the different societies or social groups associated with them.

This conference thus attempted to clarify the possible functions, be they individual or social, fulfilled by the use of psychoactive substances, both legal and illegal, as well as the meaning associated with them and which structures user behaviour. An effort was also made to examine the standards, either of an ethical or legal nature, and the collective knowledge on the basis of which a given society, at a given moment, defines this phenomenon, deems it a public issue requiring the search for a collective response and builds models of public regulation associated with this interpretation. In the final analysis, it is a matter of better understanding what determines the rooting of patterns of drug use within a society or a population.

In order to do this, knowledge from the social and human sciences, especially anthropology and sociology, was drawn upon. Such knowledge is indeed invaluable for comprehending the social processes which transform psychoactive substances into ‘drugs’ and finds meaning in a given social and cultural context, thus shedding light on the users’ practices or the ‘scientific’, moral and political responses that human communities provide for the problem.

Which judgement criteria currently dominate thinking on drug phenomenon? Which modes of political regulations result from this?

Over and above the reported rates of prevalence, is it possible to identify populations of users emerging as a result of the meanings ascribed to their practices?

Do the users of a particular substance form part of a common culture still in the process of being defined?

What regular features or, on the contrary, specific aspects, emerge in thinking as far as the drug phenomenon, the public solutions adopted, the user populations and the meaning ascribed to the different drug uses are concerned?

These questions formed the backbone of the debates highlighting an international perspective. Moreover, the contemporary use of the most widely consumed substances received particular attention and was studied from a historical point of view.

An initial series of presentations examined the general links between cultures, modern societies and drug use.

A second series of presentations presented knowledge acquired in the field of drug use in specific environments, country-specific subcultures or trans-national subcultures.

A third series of presentations discussed current knowledge regarding the various political and social representations of the problem.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Session 1. Drug uses and contemporary culture

Session 2. Drug sub-cultures: are there elective affinities between drugs and social exclusion?

Friday 12 December 2008

Session 3. Drugs and national culture: are we witnessing a convergence of drug use?

Session 4. Interpretation and awareness of drugs: a constantly changing social representation

Saturday 13 December 2008

Session 5. Regulation policies for the phenomenon: the cultural dynamics underpinning public responses.

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