Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationDuke U.
Grant numberGr. 9547
Approve DateOctober 11, 2017
Project TitleLevine, Zachary E., Duke U., Durham, NC - To aid research on 'Altered States: Ayahuasca, Statecraft, and Carcerality in Brazil,' supervised by Dr. Diane Nelson
This project examines the Brazilian state-sanctioned use of the powerful hallucinogen ayahuasca to better understand tensions between crime and therapy as forms of state reason. The plant compound ayahuasca has been ritually consumed by Amaz’nian peoples for centuries as a portal to the spirit world. It increasingly moves across global supply chains, reaching even the boardrooms of Silicon Valley, where it is the ‘drug of choice for the age of kale’ (Levy 2016). Ayahuasca is becoming a contradictory substance, straddling the religious and secular, allopathic and homeopathic, enchanted and biomedical, and criminal and criminally rehabilitative. One of the plant’s heartlands, Brazil has become a central innovator in its uses; from the prison to the lab, the state’s focus on ayahuasca works on both the substance of plants and the subjectivity of people, thus raising questions concerning how state reason and subject-formation anchor in chemical processes. Between 1987 and 2015, ayahusaca’s legal status in Brazil went from prohibited, to permitted only in religious contexts, to now fully legal. At the frontiers of ayahuasca’s arc toward normalization are two interventions by the Brazilian state: (1) A prisoner rights NGO called Acuda that brings furloughed prisoners to an ayahuasca church, where they consume the hallucinogen to expand their moral and spiritual consciousness. (2) A research consortium at the Brain Institute at the federal university of Natal studies ayahuasca’s potential pharmaceutical efficacy in treating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Within and across these sites, distributed forms of the ‘psychedelic renaissance,’ the project aims to understand ethnographically how ayahuasca creates meaningful differences between crime and therapy.