David Dupuis

David Dupuis, PhD

Durham University

The socialization of hallucinations. Cultural priors, social interactions and contextual factors in the use of ayahuasca


Identifying the underpinnings of the effects of hallucinogens drugs under experimental conditions has been a great challenge for pharmacology, as these substances are known for their strong conditionality on cultural context. While Timothy Leary (1963) coined the terms ‘set’ and ‘setting’ for these non-pharmacological factors shaping the drug experience, Claude Lévi-Strauss (1970) proposed to see in hallucinogens “triggers and amplifiers of a latent discourse that each culture holds in reserve and for which drugs can allow or facilitate the elaboration”. The stereotypical nature of hallucinations reported by indigenous groups in the Americas has thus most often been interpreted by ethnologists as a cultural projection signaling the invasion of perception by collective representations (Levi-Strauss 1970, Dobkins de Rios 1972, Reichel Dolmatoff 1974). Although this thesis has won the favor of anthropologists, the vectors by which the phenomenological characteristics of hallucinations are structured by social context have so far remained little explored. Using ethnographic data collected in a shamanic center of the Peruvian Amazon and a methodology inspired by symbolic interactionism, I will draw some leads in order to shed light on the nature of this operation, which I would propose to refer to as the “socialization of hallucinations” (Dupuis 2019). In this way, I would attempt to account for the way in which verbal and ritual interactions lead not only to organize the relationship to the hallucinogenic experience, but also to its very phenomenological content.


David Dupuis is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Anthropology of Durham University and a member of the Hearing the Voice interdisciplinary research program. Based on ethnographic surveys conducted in the Peruvian Amazon since 2008, his research focuses on the reconfiguration of the use of ayahuasca in the context of the emergence of “shamanic tourism”. His research explores more broadly the relationships between hallucinations and culture in an anthropological comparative perspective.



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