Creative Destruction: A Sociology of Self Undoing

Samantha Retrosi

Advisor: Nancy W Hanrahan, PhD, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Members: John Dale, Amy Best

Online Location, Zoom
April 14, 2023, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


Typically described in mainstream narratives as an expanding “mental health crisis”, this study locates emergent, historically specific patterns of inner disturbance within the social landscape of the ongoing knowledge regime. Recognition of the epistemic blinders of scientific materialism enables diagnosis of what appears to be a globally dispersed social problem of psychic dimensions. Based in ethnographic and interview-centered data, research findings indicate that a historic ‘crisis of consciousness’ is afoot. This analysis positions ayahuasca as a medicine for these times, focusing on the social phenomena underlying resurgent interest in the therapeutic utility of psychedelic treatment protocols. The diasporic expansion of ceremonial ayahuasca practices can be understood as, in part, due to the plants’ efficacy in intervening in a contemporary psycho-spiritual dilemma. The plant medicine is observed in its unique capacity to mitigate inner distortion effects brought about by scientific materialism’s tendency to normalize the psychic disposition of a mechanistic worldview. With the assistance of a plant intelligence, the social subject of the prevailing episteme is enabled to obtain relief in the act of ‘seeing’ beyond its former state of rationalistically-conditioned perception limitation. This analysis thus places ayahuasca’s medicinal value in direct relation to its capacity to initiate an inner, psychic paradigm shift, as well as to assist the contemporary subject in reconfiguration of its relationship to the concept of knowledge itself. The study is not about ayahuasca, per se. Rather, it is about what ayahuasca can reveal about the limitations which have been placed upon human consciousness in these times.