jay hammond on opium and settler colonialism


Jay Hammond, ‘Speaking Of Opium: Discursive Formations in Empire’. M.A. Thesis Dissertation (Columbia University Department of Anthropology, May 2011).

This thesis traces the social life of opium starting from the history of British colonialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on to settler colonialism in the United States (with frequent comparisons to Australia) at the turn of the twentieth century. This thesis has two aims. The first is to examine the ways in which discourses of crime, ownership and addiction – as manifest through intellectual property law, drug law, addiction therapies and advertising techniques – work to constitute opium as new objects such as oxycodone, heroin, morphine or Native American “Sagwas.” This is a gesture toward a counter history of these objects that challenges the notion that their differences from pure opium are merely on the basis of their chemical profiles. Through an unpacking of the discursive formations that work to constitute these objects in the United States, one discovers the ways in which they rely on the social formations of settler colonialism such as the logic of elimination. The second aim is to analyze the ways in which these discourses of crime, ownership and addiction in the United States were influenced by the historical foundations of eighteenth and nineteenth century British Colonialism. For example, while the “Indian medicine shows” of the turn of the twentieth century operated within a settler paradigm of elimination through cultural absorption and appropriation, they also relied on the opium that had been appropriated from India by the British a century before. This approach lays important groundwork for beginning to think the history of settler colonialism in the United States as situated within a dialectic relationship with the history of British colonialism.

Sounds like a fascinating entry point into an analysis of settler colonialism. To email the author, click here.

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