Miriam Boeri, PhD: Using Sociology to Improve Services for People who use Drugs
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Miriam Boeri earned her B.A. in Communication from Kennesaw State University in 1996. She immediately went on to earn both her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Georgia State University, finishing her formal education in 2002. Although she has done some applied work, she has not received a certificate or other credentials for applied sociology yet, but plans to do so soon.
Dr. Boeri’s research focuses on people who use drugs and their social environments. By examining the intersection of socio-economic status, race, gender, and social capital over the life course, Boeri looks for turning points and transitions in drug use trajectories to better understand how to target services for people who need them. Boeri's aim is to reduce the adverse health effects associated with drug use and the harmful social impact of punitive drug policy. Boeri's recent work calls for including alternative strategies to complement conventional drug treatment practices. Committed to including the voices of the marginalized and disenfranchised, Boeri is a strong advocate of harm reduction initiatives. She has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to study the lived reality of drug use in the U.S. landscape using ethnographic methods.
Read the full interview with Dr. Boeri about her applied sociological work below!
Miriam Boeri, PhD
Using Sociology in Practice
How do you use sociological research methods in practice?
I usually use ethnographic methods which involves hanging out in the community I study and with the people I want to know better for research goals. I use mixed methods of data collection which includes in-depth interviews, focus groups, surveys, and an innovative program I developed with colleagues to collect life history trajectories.
How do you use sociological theory in practice?
I apply concepts and theories that might help develop strategies to address specific issues or frame a solutions. For example, I use social capital theory to inform strategies to increase people's access to needed social networks and resources.
Lessons for Future Practitioners
What types of courses should undergraduate students take in preparation for a career in your type of practice?
Research Methods, Ethnographic Methods, Social Problems, Deviance and Social Control
What types of courses should graduate students take in preparation for a career in your type of practice?
Advanced research methods. Field research, Any writing courses (e.g., proposal writing).
What types of experiences should graduate students seek in preparation for a career in your type of practice?
Find a mentor (usually a professor) whose work you admire and who is getting external funding. Ask if this person can train you in the kind of work they are doing.
What texts or authors can people reference to learn more about the work you do as an applied or clinical sociologist?
Mills, C. Wright. 2000 (1963). The Sociological Imagination.
Berger, Peter and Thomas Luckmann. 1967. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.
Boeri, Miriam and Rashi Shukla (Eds) 2019. Inside Ethnography: Researchers Reflect on the Challenges of Reaching Hidden Populations. This book includes 21 authors who share their diverse experiences conducting ethnographic research.
Boeri, Miriam 2017. Chronicles of the Drug War Generation. This book includes stories of people I interviewed set in social and historical context, and shows how to use social theory to provide new solutions.
Musto, David. 1999. The American Disease: Origins of Narcotics Control.
Page, Bryan J. and Merrill Singer. Comprehending Drug Use: Ethnographic Research at the Social Margins
Putnam, Robert, D. 2000. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
Becker, Howard. 2008. Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about your Research While You're Doing it.
Other authors I suggest are books by Philippe Bourgois, Loic Wacquant, Claire Sterk, Pierre Bourdieu, John Laub, Robert Sampson,
What advice do you have for aspiring applied and clinical sociologists?
Never give up! Stay away from getting trapped in the academic "ivory tower" (see Mills).