Technology with attitude

Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction, and Poverty in Urban America is Coming to the Penn Museum

2
One of the powerful images of Rightous Dopefiend. Photo: Jeff Schonberg
One of the powerful images of Rightous Dopefiend. Photo: Jeff Schonberg

Righteous Dopefiend

In Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction and Poverty in Urban America, anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and photographer-ethnographer Jeff Schonberg document the daily lives of homeless drug users, drawing upon more than a decade of fieldwork they conducted among a community of heroin injectors and crack smokers who survive on the streets of San Francisco’s former industrial neighborhoods. About 40 black and white photographs are interwoven with edited transcriptions of tape recorded conversations, fieldwork notes, and critical analysis to explore the intimate experience of homelessness and addiction. Revealing the social survival mechanisms and perspectives of this marginalized “community of addicted bodies,” the exhibition also sheds light on the often unintended consequences of public policies that can exacerbate the suffering faced by street-based drug users in America.

Bourgois and Schonberg spent more than a decade among a community of heroin injectors and crack smokers who survive on the streets of San Francisco’s former industrial neighborhoods. Their extensive research formed the subject of a provocative new book, Righteous Dopefiend (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009), and now, a new exhibition.

The display is set to be unveiled on Saturday December 5th at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia and runs through May 2010. More than forty black-and-white photographs are interwoven with edited transcriptions of tape-recorded conversations, field notes, and critical analysis to explore the intimate experience of homelessness and addiction.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. But this is a revealing display that showcases the survival mechanisms and perspectives of this marginalized “community of addicted bodies,” the new exhibition sheds light on the often unintended consequences of public policies that inadvertently exacerbate the suffering faced by street-based drug users in America. So while it may be somewhat different, it still offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind’s collective heritage, which is the main thing that the museum strives for.

Philippe Bourgois, the Richard Perry University Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania since 2007, and a Consulting Scholar at the Penn Museum, describes his interests as “at the intersection of the fields of cultural anthropology, medicine, and public health,” and his work as “dedicated to analyzing the negative health effects of social inequality.” He co-curates the new exhibition with his former student and Righteous Dopefiend project partner Jeff Schonberg, a photographer and doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley.

Professor Bourgois has devoted the past 25 years of his life to researching inner city poverty in the United States. His previous multi-award winning book, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, is based on five years he spent living with his family next to a crack house in East Harlem, New York. He has just begun a new Philadelphia-based project, examining violence and HIV among young heroin and cocaine sellers and addicts in North Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community.

Righteous Dopefiend is presented in conjunction with the Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut Street, offering a multimedia installation with related programming December 3 through 31, 2009. To learn more about the display check out it’s exhibit website.