PhD in Sociology

Samantha Retrosi, 2023

Samantha Retrosi

When are you graduating?

Spring 2023

Describe your dissertation, thesis, or capstone (if you completed one):

In my dissertation, I sought to rethink what mainstream narratives typically refer to as crises of 'mental health,' instead locating historically specific patterns of inner disturbance within an epistemological framing. My work describes how the epistemic blinders of scientific materialism socialize a mechanistic psychic disposition as normative. I interrogate the ways in which frequently resulting 'personal' issues' of so-called mental health can, alternatively, be seen as symptomatic manifestations of the prevailing form of consciousness limitation present in contemporary social conditions. My work positions the psychoactive plant 'medicine' ayahuasca as a remedy for the historically specific form of perception distortion emergent from within the ideational context particular to the ongoing episteme. More specifically, I examine the role of the expanding ayahuasca diaspora in relation to these themes, arguing for an understanding of its utility to contemporary social subjects as a medicine for collective and individually manifest psychic experiences of 'disenchantment.' The study is not necessarily about ayahuasca, but rather, what ayahuasca can reveal about the normative constraints being experienced within and through human consciousness in these times.

How did you choose your specific area of study?

I chose my particular area of study due to the emergence, during my time as a student of sociology, of a deep interest in the healing properties of psychoactive plants. Before I began studying with ayahuasca plants myself, I was interested (on personal, political, and sociological levels) in coming to better understand the relationship between human consciousness and power-laden social stratification systems. The power of the plant world to assist the human mind in the process of coming to see its own constraints (as well as its potentialities of and for liberation) was something I discovered not long after I entered Mason's Sociology Ph.D. program. My interest in plant-centered healing modalities thus appeared alongside and amid an educational process of deep engagement with the liberation theories I have always been most drawn to within the field of critical social theory. There has been an emergent natural symbiosis, over the last decade, between my studies of plant and sociological knowledges, which I have engaged side-by-side.

How did your academic experiences in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences impact you?

I have been significantly expanded, in many ways, by my academic experiences in CHSS. Across the course of my studies, I was certainly asked to come up against what sometimes appeared as the parameters of my own limitations. Now I would say that such uncomfortable experiences were crucial moments that were in fact, opportunities. These were openings not only toward further intellectual development but also opportunities to mature into various forms of immense inner and outer growth of qualities and dimensions which are not isolated to intellect alone.

Of which accomplishment(s) during your time at Mason are you most proud?

I cannot say I am proud of my own accomplishments, because I recognize that in every stage of my progress through my PhD, I was greatly assisted and even reliant upon the support of the others with and under whom I worked and learned. I see the completion of this process as the product of the collective efforts of the many people who provided me with opportunities, guidance, and service, along the way. So I would say that most likely gratitude, rather than pride, is a more accurate descriptor of how I feel about my time at Mason.

Are there faculty or staff members who made a difference during your Mason career?

I absolutely need to recognize Dr. Nancy Hanrahan for the immensity of her support, her solidarity, and her unwavering commitment to helping me through my program, every step of the way. Somehow I was blessed to run into what was for me, a very powerful guide and mentor almost as soon as I entered the department. I also need to acknowledge and thank Dr. Amy Best and Dr. John Dale, who were heavily supportive of my development as both a sociologist and a person from the very start - my first semester at Mason! These three faculty members not only provided intellectually for my progress as a student in the department but also ensured that I maintained work opportunities that sustained me throughout my studies. I could not have progressed to this point without any of them.

What advice would you give to an incoming cohort of graduate students?

When the going gets tough, recommit to believe in yourself and the work you have chosen to do. Immerse yourself in the area of scholarship which impassions and awakens your desire for experience of successively greater depths of knowledge. Develop relationships with strong mentors who reinforce your commitment to your studies, your confidence in your own abilities, and the relational gifts of intellectual life and engagement.

What are your current career plans following graduation? What are your long-term career goals?

I currently hold the position of Director at an ayahuasca healing center, and at least in the short term, I will continue with my ongoing work in this field and location.