Race, Drugs, and the Making of the Modern World

Luisa Farah Schwartzman, University of Toronto
Anne Pollock, King's College London

This paper discusses the intertwining of race, drugs and modernity historically. We bring three literatures into conversation: critical race theory, the history of psychoactive drugs, and historical sociology. Through an analysis of secondary sources on the history of drugs, we engage three broad and interrelated themes: racial and colonial capitalism, state formation, and the embodied making of modern subjecthood. Here, race and drugs are both linked to changing relationships between humans and nature, and the anxieties, social dislocation, violence and changing power hierarchies that this process entails. The production, exchange, and consumption of drugs on a global scale under capitalism has been a vital site of commodification of nature in a broad sense, including the commodification of humans, their livelihoods, and their relationships with each other, with their environment, and with the metaphysical. The economy and politics of drugs have been intimately connected to the logics slavery, colonialism, empire, bordering and criminalization that have shaped the racialized inequalities and exclusions of the contemporary era. Moreover, in a profound sense, race and drugs have been historically seen as threats to idealized Western understandings of a modern, liberal subject, capable of self-regulation detached from their natural impulses. Both materially and symbolically, drugs have been constitutive of racialization and the making of the modern world.

See paper

 Presented in Session 229. Situating the (Post)Colony: Race, Drugs, Sovereignty, and Imaginaries of Ageing