In Memoriam: Marlene Dobkin de Rios

© 2013 J. Baker

2013 – № 1 (5)

Key words: hallucinogens, ayahuasca, San Pedro cactus, ethnobotany

Summary: This is a reprint of an obituary to Marlene Dobkin de Rios, a renowned American anthropologist, a good friend of ‘Medical Anthropology and Bioethics’ Journal and the member of its Editorial Board, written by her colleague John Baker for Anthropology News (March 2013, Vol. 54 No.3).

Marlene Dobkin de Rios, 73, died in Placentia, CA, on November 10, 2012. Dobkin de Rios was one of the first anthropologists to report on the use of the ayahuasca beverage and the San Pedro cactus in South America. In 1972, she received her PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Riverside for her research in Peru. Her findings reached a broader audience with the publication of Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic Healing in the Peruvian Amazon (1972). Her subsequent investigations into the use of psychedelic substances in societies across the globe resulted in Hallucinogens: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (1984).

Dobkin de Rios’ early work convinced her that psychoactive substances had profoundly affected the art, healing practices, and cosmological worldviews of the societies that used them. The questions she pursued led to collaborations with scholars from fields as diverse as art history, botany and psychiatry. Dobkin de Rios authored over 40 articles and co-authored dozens more. She also published eight books. Her collaborative spirit can be seen in the book LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process (2003), in which Dobkin de Rios presented the largely unpublished research of Oscar Janiger, an American psychiatrist who administered psychedelics to artists and other creative individuals before such substances were outlawed.

Dobkin de Rios was professor of anthropology at California State University, Fullerton, until her retirement in 2000. After earning an MA in clinical psychology, she was appointed associate clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in 1989. There, she taught transcultural psychiatry to residents and clinical staff. She also worked at the UCI Burn Center, where she counseled trauma victims using techniques adopted from her work with indigenous healers. Her private practice focused on helping low income patients make clinical progress during the few visits they were allowed under public funding guidelines. Her insights were published in the book Brief Psychotherapy with the Latino Immigrant Client (2001).

Dobkin de Rios served as president of the Southwestern Anthropological Association (1979–81) and on the executive board of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. She also served on the editorial boards of numerous journals, including the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Anthropology of Consciousness and the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.

Dobkin de Rios observed many of the techniques and safeguards that people in traditional societies employ to ensure that the hypersuggestible states produced by psychedelic substances serve culturally integrative purposes. She saw a great contrast between such ritualized practices and the more ad hoc use of hallucinogenic substances in modern societies, where competent support and socially constructive contexts may be lacking. Her later books, A Hallucinogenic Tea Laced with Controversy: Ayahausca in the Amazon and the US (co-authored with Roger Rumrrill, 2008) and The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios: 45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists (2009), explored the implications of these different patterns of usage.

Marlene is survived by her husband, Yando, her daughters Gabriela and Evy, and by three grandchildren.


Editorial Note

A year ago passed away Marlene Dobkin de Rios, a renowned anthropologist who was deeply committed to research of complicated issues of hallucinogens’ use in various cultural groups. Prof. Dobkin de Rios served as a board member of “Medical Anthropology and Bioethics” and made great contribution to preparation of its first issues. In memory of Marlene Dobkin de Rios we reprint an essay written by her colleague John Baker for Anthropology News (March 2013, Vol. 54 No.3) and publish two brief chapters from her book “The Psychedelic Journey of Marlene Dobkin de Rios: 45 Years with Shamans, Ayahuasqueros, and Ethnobotanists” (2009) translated into Russian by Marina Orlova.

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