- Methodology or Muse?
I am grateful to the authors for their comments, and for the opportunity to respond. To clarify my approach, I sought to discuss the centrality of ‘set and setting’ at descriptive and normative levels in the Psychedelic Renaissance by focusing on the language of containment prevalent during my ethnographic research. Inspired by the study of material culture, I took up certain questions that can be asked of any container—how they are constructed and maintained, how leaks and overflows are dealt with, the work done by their boundaries, and relationship of these containers to their contents. There are undoubtedly more questions but these are the ones I found fruitful to think with. My goal was to explore how the concerns over set and setting, and containment, are themselves remaking psychedelic practices and discourses, both inside and outside of clinical trials and in relation to both therapeutics and calls for social justice.
I agree with Earp and Yaden that the existence of a ‘psychedelic community’ needs careful unpacking, although I am less convinced that the term as I have used it is incoherent. Of course, asking what a community is and how we might come to know it is commonplace in the social sciences. I do not know of attempts to map out the contemporary North American and/or UK psychedelic scenes, including the strength of the weak ties (Granovetter, 1973) connecting seemingly-disparate clusters such as overground research groups, local community networks and other demarcated constituencies in attendance at psychedelic events both offline and online. My use of the ‘psychedelic community’ is emic vocabulary, used by my interlocutors during the period of my research. I do not use the term to claim that the psychedelic community is clearly defined or uncontested (on the contrary; see also Noorani, 2020), but to refer, inter alia, to the movement of actors, knowledges, resources, and affections from the clinic to a wider underground and back again.
Earp and Yaden suggest distinguishing between a larger ‘community of interest’ (my summary) gathering at psychedelic events I attended, and a nested psychedelic research community. We might equally find ‘community’ precisely where there are fraught conversations amongst actors over whether they form a community or not, who is ‘in’ and who is (or should be) ‘out,’ as well as the feeling of being betrayed by peers who are deemed to know better. During my fieldwork these contestations were prevalent and often organized around appeals by the overground research vanguard to the wider audience to ‘stay the course’ and support medicalization as a thin-end-of-the-wedge tactic. If we accept that its identity is contested, how much then is this ‘psychedelic community’ an imagined community (Anderson, 1983), perhaps one hinging on (unevenly) shared histories of countercultural activity, prohibition, stigma, and the desire for redemption? And could we tease out distinct subcommunities, as themselves ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger, 1988), ‘communities of interest’ [End Page 227] and more? I think these remain good questions for social scientists interested in the Psychedelic Renaissance.
I appreciate the commentators are wary of the ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ (Ricoeur, 2008 ) that shape critical thinking and can produce a kind of conspiratorial mode of thinking. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The characterization of scientific trials as where everything is controlled and contained, versus the local communities as where all hell could run loose, helps to understanding the predicament the research teams have faced (cf. Giffort, 2020). Yet when the scientists and participants live in proximity, maintaining the perception of separation requires work. I was thrown by Earp and Yaden’s claim that “extra-clinical” connections are not concretely described.” My examples in the section ‘Leaks and Overflows’ are organized into four categories: the enthusiasm of former participants who have become advocates for psychedelic therapy; the emergence of psychedelic societies with connections to the clinical research(ers); friendships and wider community networks built through and around the trials; the extracurricular and sometimes-evangelical work of clinical researchers and therapists. I insist that these are phenomena that deserve attention.
Although I would agree with Lewis that science can be “pretty good at figuring” these...