High New York: The Birth of a Psychedelic Subculture in the American City
The consumption of LSD and similar psychedelic drugs in New York City led to a great deal of cultural innovations that formed a unique psychedelic subculture from the early 1960s onwards. Historians and other commentators have offered conflicting views on this phenomenon by using either an epidemiological approach or by giving drug users more agency. The present study sides with the latter category to offer a new social history of LSD, but problematizes this topic in a sophisticated way by understanding psychedelic drug use as a social fact that in turn produces meaning for its consumers. It analyses the multiple cultural features of psychedelia through the lenses of politics, science, religion, and art, but also looks at the utopian and radical off-shoots of that subculture. To balance this thematic approach, it historicises the subculture by analysing its early days and discussing its origins, and then by pointing to the factors that led to its metamorphosis towards the end of the 1960s. In order to give LSD consumers a clearer voice, this dissertation is based on memoirs, correspondence and interviews that are used to balance press coverage gleaned from archival collections. With this wide array of primary sources supplemented by up-to-date secondary literature, it argues that the use of LSD and psychedelics led to a rich subculture that can be explained by the inherent complexity of the psychedelic experience. In turn, the plurality of opinions regarding the meaning and purposes of the experience led to tensions and polarisations within the large subculture, as well as with other drug subcultures and outsiders leery of illicit drug use. In doing so, this dissertation contributes to the social history of illicit substance consumption and adds to the fields of urban history and the history of subcultures, and makes a case for understanding LSD and psychedelics as a unique category of forbidden drugs that differ vastly in their cultural meaning from other drugs.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeSmith-Norris, Martha; Klaassen, Frank; Myers, Mark; Banco, Lindsey; Farber, David
Copyright DateOctober 2015
LSD, Psychedelic Drugs, Subculture, Counter-culture, Urban History