Penn Museum Exhibition Offers Intimate Look at Homelessness and Addiction in Urban America

Anthropologist Philippe Bourgois and photographer-ethnographer Jeff Schonberg spent more than a decade among a community of heroin injectors and crack smokers who survive on the streets of San Francisco’s former industrial neighborhoods. Their extensive research formed the subject of a provocative new book, Righteous Dopefiend (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2009), and now, a new exhibition.

Righteous Dopefiend: Homelessness, Addiction, and Poverty in Urban America, opens Saturday, December 5, 2009 at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia and runs through May 2010. More than forty black-and-white photographs are interwoven with edited transcriptions of tape-recorded conversations, field notes, and critical analysis to explore the intimate experience of homelessness and addiction.

Revealing the survival mechanisms and perspectives of this marginalized “community of addicted bodies,” the new exhibition sheds light on the often unintended consequences of public policies that inadvertently exacerbate the suffering faced by street-based drug users in America.

Philippe Bourgois, the Richard Perry University Professor of Medical Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania since 2007, and a Consulting Scholar at the Penn Museum, describes his interests as “at the intersection of the fields of cultural anthropology, medicine, and public health,” and his work as “dedicated to analyzing the negative health effects of social inequality.” He co-curates the new exhibition with his former student and Righteous Dopefiend project partner Jeff Schonberg, a photographer and doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at the University of California, San Francisco and Berkeley.

Professor Bourgois has devoted the past 25 years of his life to researching inner city poverty in the United States. His previous multi-award winning book, In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, is based on five years he spent living with his family next to a crack house in East Harlem, New York. He has just begun a new Philadelphia-based project, examining violence and HIV among young heroin and cocaine sellers and addicts in North Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community.

Righteous Dopefiend is presented in conjunction with the Slought Foundation, 4017 Walnut Street, offering a multimedia installation with related programming December 3 through 31, 2009.

The research for Righteous Dopefiend was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives is co-sponsor of these exhibits as a part of their 2009/2010 series, “Creative Action: The Arts in Public Health,” and Penn’s Arts and the City programming initiative.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind’s collective heritage.

Penn Museum is located at 3260 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (on Penn’s campus, across from Franklin Field and adjacent to SEPTA’s University City Regional Rail station serving the R1, R2, and R3 lines). Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:30 pm, Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Closed Mondays and holidays. Admission donation is $10 for adults; $7 for senior citizens (65 and above); $6 children (6 to 17) and full-time students with ID; free to Members, Penncard holders, and children 5 and younger; “pay-what-you-want” after 3:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday, and after 4:00 pm Sunday. Penn Museum can be found on the web at For general information call (215) 898-4000.

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