Ethnography Study: part one

The focus of my research is erowid.org, a site filled with information about psychoactive drugs and their relationship with humans. Because the subject of drugs is often considered taboo in some way, I felt that it was important to not only look into the community of Erowid, but also look at a sampling of the community outside. I conducted two surveys. One focused on how people felt about the discussion of drugs, how often and in what way did discussion of drugs happen, and I ended with a question asking if people thought a site that presented information on drugs was ethical. My second survey focused on people’s experience and knowledge with erowid.org and focused on how often people went on the site, what they used it for, and what they thought about the site in general. While the surveys were being conducted over one week, I was also in contact with the crew of Erowid, and throughout my presentation of my research, I will be integrating my survey results in various ways with the information I received directly from Erowid. I approached the project in this way because the site is an informational site, and while the people behind the scenes are the focus of my ethnography, the site itself is designed to inform a different community, and I felt it was my responsibility to look into the general populace as well.

Survey One: “How do you feel about discussing drugs?”

Seventy-one people took this survey, and I broke that number down here into gender.

I sent this survey out over Facebook to over 150 of my “friends” on Facebook. The individuals varied in age, gender, and location in the United States. I encouraged people to share the survey with other friends, and it was also posted here on the erowidethnography. I understand that this is not a true random sampling, but I feel that the voices in the survey at least cover a wide range of views through gender (see left), age and political orientation (see below).

Some quotes from the respondents will be interspersed throughout the information more specific to the Erowid community. Here are some from the survey as well:

What do you talk about when discussing drugs and drug use? Are these discussions face-to-face, online, or through another medium (and what other medium is it)?

“I try to explain to my children how drugs not only affect you when you take them—they can effect you the rest of your life”

“I have these discussions face-to-face about the frequency that other students on campus use them and how they affect my personal relationships.”

In general, do you think discussion of illegal drugs and their use is important? Why or why not?

“I do think it is important, as the more this subject is ignored due to taboo or controversy, the more people will go behind closed doors and abuse these drugs without being informed. Information may be the best defense against overdose and irresponsible usage.”

Do you feel that a website dedicated to presenting information about psychoactive drugs (most of them illegal to use, but many being legal in the U.S) is ethical? What would cause you to think it was unethical versus ethical?

“I wouldn’t say it is unethical. If it would be informational, what the reader does with the information can be judged as ethical or unethical, but not the act of providing information.”

“I think such a website would be morally permissible, but not morally praiseworthy.”

Survey Two: “How do you feel about the website erowid.org?”

Only 16 people took this survey, but I expected it to be lower as its purpose was to survey people who are familiar in some way with erowid.org.  A link to the Erowid site accompanied the invitation to take this survey, and I encouraged people to look at the site and then take the survey, or take the survey if they already knew about Erowid. I again sent the link to everyone who had been invited to the Facebook event for the first survey (note: if the other survey had been sent to others via Facebook without my knowledge, they too would have been included in the second survey invitation).  Again, I felt that although it was a smaller number of respondents, I was impressed with the balance of gender (see below). I did not inquire about age or political orientation in this survey.

Some quotes from the respondents will be interspersed throughout the information more specific to the Erowid community. Here are some from the survey as well.

When visiting erowid.org, what types of things do you read and look into and why?

“I think it’s a useful tool for people who are interested in psychoactive drugs and their effect on humans. If people are going to use these substances, they should at least be knowledgeable about them (or have the chance to be). Erowid.org serves this purpose well.”

 “it seemed informational, but I felt like I was doing something wrong when I was reading it.”

Questions? Comments? Please post below!

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About gmcottrill

I am a recent graduate of UW Madison and now have a BA in reporting and strategic communication. I hope to one day work as a book editor or layout editor for some sort of publication or work for a marketing team for a museum.

Posted on May 8, 2011, in Research, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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