• Home
  • Anthropology
  • The social life of smokes: Processes of exchange in a heroin marketplace’ in Fraser and Moore / The Drug Effect: Health, Crime and Society.

The social life of smokes: Processes of exchange in a heroin marketplace’ in Fraser and Moore / The Drug Effect: Health, Crime and Society.

  • Category:
  • Document type:
    Case Study
  • Level:
  • Page:
  • Words:

Drug Markets 2

Social Processes and Drug Markets


This work addresses issues relating to drug markets and the surrounding dynamic social processes with special focus on the case study, “The Social Life of Smokes” by Robyn Dwyer.

This case study concentrates upon the exchange of illicit drugs, with a view to establish that illicit drug markets are created and preserved via intricate and dynamic social processes and relationships[CITATION Dwy11 p 19 l 1033 ].This perspective is markedly opposed to the prevailing notions regarding drug markets, which regard them as being actuated by supply and demand. These prevalent notions usually overlook the inherent social associations of drug markets and project them as an entity to be measured instead of a process to be comprehended.

This work claims that dynamic social relationship and processes are the critical themes underlying drug markets.

According to Dwyer, the ethnographic methods lead to finely distinguished descriptions of drug markets by accommodating the accompanying apprehension regarding their constituent social processes and relationships[CITATION Dwy10 p 20 l 1033 ]. Moreover, it is declared that the dominant theoretical notions regarding drug markets or their participants do not provide an adequate description of these entities.

Moreover, as highlighted by Achrol and Kotler, consumption is central to marketing, and consumption comprises of utility, satisfaction and value[CITATION Ach121 p 37 l 1033 ]. Furthermore, according to Ritter, in the context of illicit drug markets, the qualitative and ethnographic approaches have been employed widely for documenting these markets. This approach makes it possible to procure a detailed view of the market, marketplace, and the cultural and social norms of specific illicit drug markets[CITATION Rit06 p 454 l 1033 ]. In this regard, Dorn et al. had declared that drug markets exist in a state of continuous change.

Regarding social processes, Chalmers and Bradford claimed that some dealers provide credit, free deals, or discounts with a view to establish and continue persisting associations with their customers[CITATION Cha133 p 257 l 1033 ].

Key Points

Social processes and relationships are the drug market’s underlying themes. Thus, Footscray marketplace goods are sold at various prices depending upon the relation with the customer.

Dwyer claimed that the Footscray marketplace admits of the following modes of heroin exchange: barter, employment, gifts, service, trade and theft. Practices akin to these have been noticed in other marketplaces[CITATION Dwy10 p 392 l 1033 ]. According to Achrol & Kotler, products are acquired for providing experience to consumers by bringing services.

Achrol & Kotler claimed that consumer experience is a novel notion in this digitalised age of service economy, knowledge products and information[CITATION Ach121 p 37 l 1033 ]. As such, individuals seek satisfying experiences and not mere products.

Regarding research approach, Ritter declared that the stakeholders of drug markets interact intimately with them at differing levels, and experience constant interactions with law enforcement, which produces changes to these markets, indicating dynamic social relations.

As highlighted by Ritter, the qualitative and ethnographic approaches to drug markets have provided the novel insight that there is no single drug market[CITATION Rit06 p 454 l 1033 ].In fact, Dorn et al. had shown that drug markets exist in a state of continuous flux. This is due to dynamic processes involved in the market place.

As claimed by Coomber &Turnbull, the extant research on drug markets indicates that social interaction between peers is promoted by social supply[CITATION Joe16 p 94 l 16393 ]. In addition, social supply is integral to a culture that is governed by rituals, rules, and norms of gifting, sharing, reciprocity and trust.


Robyn Dwyer, the author of the Social Life of Smokes, states that, with reference to Gregory and Altman’s anthropological work, drug economies can be described as social relations that manage the exchange of drugs, and their production and consumption. Dwyer’s research concentrated upon the issues related to drug user agency, social interaction patterns, social networks, social exchange and the daily embodied practices that mould lifestyles.

In addition, Ritter opined regarding the research approaches that qualitative and ethnographic approaches were best suited for the study of drug markets, since the drug market was based upon complex social processes and relations. According to Ritter, ethnography endeavours to comprehend the cultural practices, experiences, social processes and structural parameters of a community or group. Hence, the ethnographic approach is best suited for the study of drug markets consisting of social processes. In addition, Chalmers &Bradford, argued that free drugs and credits were available to regular customers based on trust. Regarding marketing of drugs, Achrol & Kotler opined that consumption is the main theme of marketing. Thus, consumption provides customers with satisfying experiences which implies the underlying social process of drug markets. Moreover, Coomber and Turnbull had observed that social interaction in drug markets is amplified by social supply. As such, this work substantiates that social processes and relations are important themes underlying the drug markets.


Achrol, R. S. & Kotler, P., 2012. Frontiers of the marketing paradigm in the third millennium. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 40(1), pp. 35-52.

Chalmers, J. & Bradford, D., 2013. Methamphetamine Users’ Perceptions of Exchanging Drugs for Money: Does Trust Matter?. Journal of Drug Issues, 43(3), pp. 256-269.

Dwyer, R., 2010. Beyond neoclassical economics: Social process, agency and the maintenance of order in an Australian illicit drug marketplace. International Journal of Drug Policy, 21(5), pp. 390-398.

Dwyer, R., 2011. The social life of smokes: Processes of exchange in a heroin marketplace. In: S. Fraser & D. Moore, eds. The Drug Effect: Health, Crime and Society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 19-34.

Joe-Laidler, K., 2016. Criminological Perspectives. In: T. Kolind, B. Thom & G. Hunt, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Drug & Alcohol Studies: Social Science Approaches. London, UK: SAGE, pp. 85-99.

Ritter, A., 2006. Studying illicit drug markets: Disciplinary contributions. International Journal of Drug Policy, 17(6), pp. 453-463.