Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Materiality
Secondary Theme: Health
This is Panel I of a series of three panels that we have put together to explore the ways in which drugs (broadly construed) become reconfigured in the context of specific life-worlds in ways that may exceed, disrupt, or repurpose their chemical compositions. We build on recent trends in anthropology and science and technology studies that seek to move beyond the dichotomy between substances and their representations, and to instead inquire into what drugs are and how their identities are inherently contingent, processual, and relational in ways that refuse a separation of materiality and meaning (Barad 2007, Barry 2005, Lock 2017, Mol 2002). We consider how drugs manifest in multiple ways, times, bodies, and places, in a manner that necessarily destabilizes our concepts and troubles categories like drug and fake, medicine and poison, & food and toxin. Inspired also by Dumit’s recent work on “substance as method” (2018 & forthcoming), we ask how each substance may require its own language to talk about its capacities and effects, thus jostling our sedimented ways of seeing, thinking, and theorizing about drugs.
In conversation with the conference theme of “resistance, resilience, and adaptation”, this panel asks how the capacities of substances can both resist and adapt. For instance, we investigate how drugs and the practices that make them at times resist epistemological mechanisms for knowing them, regulatory regimes for controlling them, and ontological assumptions about causation and what counts as a source of efficacy. On the other hand, we also consider how drugs’ capacities are adapted, disrupted, transformed, experimented and tinkered with when these substances become incorporated into different bodies, relations, subjectivities, political-economic conditions, therapeutic regimes, experimental apparatuses, environmental sedimentations and flows, and networks of care and obligation.
The papers on our panels look at many types of drugs: from pharmaceuticals to toxins, foods to pesticides. Each presentation explores in some way the contextual, relational, processual, and perhaps even contradictory potentialities of their substances as they are actualized within particular material semiotic relations. Together we consider how drugs’ capacities might be shaped by other causes which experimental science has relegated to the realm of the “irrational” (or placebo effect) (Degrandpre 2006, Stengers 2003); how the active involvement of bodies, environments, other beings, and other substances might alter chemical composition and its effects as a drug moves through them (Landecker 2015, Murphy 2011), and we ask what happens to assumptions about drugs’ effects, potentialities, and capacities when we consider how these reside in complicated logics of causation invoking always imperfect (and disrupted) entanglements, reciprocities, relational obligations, and connected responsibilities (Strathern 2014). The broader goal of these panels is to engage in a longer conversation about what kinds of methodologies and theories are needed to hold together and think through such “witting and unwitting efficacies” of drugs (Hardon & Sanabria 2017).