Ways of knowing: (non)/medical explorations and the psychedelic world

Swasti Mishra, PhD researcher

Chemistry historically emerged as a powerful way to imagine and interact with the world. In scientific disciplines, this understanding postulates a world made up of ongoing and continuous chemical processes. Non-scientific interpretations of chemicals often reverberate, amplify, modify and follow this processual discourse. Yet, in many contexts ranging from scientific research, to festivals settings to those of everyday life, the term chemical is used to describe stable, bounded objects with specific properties.

In practices – both scientific and otherwise – chemicals are simultaneously deployed in their unbounded, processual character and enacted in bounded, objectified versions. The tensions, coherence and incoherence between these understandings and the practices that they are informed by – and engender – constitute the backbone of my research. Here, I focus on diverse practices where specific substances, owing to situated historical and material conditions, have come to be understood as ‘psychedelics’, within the contemporary ‘West’. What are psychedelic substances? How do they emerge from, are utilized in, and shape different practices by ‘lay users’ and ‘experts’ interested in these substances?

My research – geographically situated between the Netherlands and the United States – follows the movements and transformations of these substances, in and out of different settings such as homes, parks, festivals, clinical trials, fMRIs. In this process, I trace moments in which these substances come together and are made to work as a medication, or seep into various socio-cultural spheres as a party-drug, or for the enhancement of creative output.

By studying different valuations of ‘psychedelic substances’, my research interrogates linkages between chemicals and substances, natural and synthetic, in-and out-of body, therapeutic and recreational, individual and collective, thereby fleshing out the material relations in which these “chemicals” are configured.

Some images from the field


  • Emilia Sanabria
  • Senior Researcher and PhD Supervisor
  • Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences Program group Anthropology of Health, Care and the Body
  • Anita Hardon
  • Project leader
  • Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences Program group Anthropology of Health, Care and the Body
  • Nieuwe Achtergracht 166, 1018 WV, Amsterdam, REC C5.07
  • (020)5253544, (020)5252504