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CHSTM Research Seminar: 13 February 2024

by | Feb 7, 2024 | Events, Seminars | 0 comments

Tuesday 13 February 2024, 4pm
CHSTM Seminar Room: Simon 2.57 [maps and travel]

Dr Clare Edington, University of California, San Diego

Morphine, cocaine and the slippery history of pain relief/pleasure seeking in colonial Vietnam


Moving beyond the usual focus on opium, this paper argues that attention to morphine and cocaine provides a new and richer understanding of the shifting contours of drug consumption in colonial Vietnam. At the turn of the century, mass advertising for new “miracle” drugs that promised to relieve pain and produce cures emerged alongside a powerful state-sponsored opium monopoly. Together, these parallel markets cultivated the desire for chemically-induced experiences, even as experts began to warn of the dangerously addictive potential of morphine and cocaine and Vietnamese consumers themselves made determinations about the relative efficacy and ease of ingestion of various substances. Once hooked, access to both new and more familiar drugs hinged on a host of shifting legal restrictions and market mechanisms which prescribed where and under what circumstances bodies in pain could find relief. Drawing on both French and Vietnamese sources, I argue that attending to the slippery qualities of pain-relieving drugs across different registers –  legal and illegal, poison and medicine, pain and pleasure – provides unusual insight into the material traces of these debates on addicted bodies as well as the material conditions which shaped access to these drugs in the first place.

Take a look at the CHSTM Research Seminar Programme

Seminar Convenors: Professor Ian Burney and Dr Neil Pemberton


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