CFP: Situating & Expanding Drugs’ Capacities (AAA 2018)

This is a Call for Papers for the AAA Annual meeting in San Jose, CA, on November 14-18, 2018, for the following series of (2-3) panels.

Panel TitleSituating & Expanding Drugs’ Capacities: Effects That Exceed, Disrupt, and Repurpose Chemical Composition

OrganizersLaura Meek, PhD Candidate, University of California, Davis, USA; Rossio Motta-Ochoa, Postdoctoral Fellow (Faculty of Medicine), McGill University, Canada

DiscussantsAnita Hardon, Professor, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Emilia Sanabria, Professor, Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Enjeux Contemporains, École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France; TBD (if third panel)

Abstract: This panel explores 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 STS 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, how do drugs and the practices that make them resist epistemological mechanisms for knowing them? Regulatory regimes for controlling them? Ontological assumptions about causation and what counts as a source of efficacy? On the other hand, how are drugs’ capacities 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?

We welcome papers that consider any type of drug: from pharmaceuticals to toxins, food to pesticides. We encourage papers that explore the contextual, relational, processual, and perhaps even contradictory potentialities of their substances as they are actualized within particular material-semiotic relations. For instance, how might drugs’ capacities be shaped by other causes which experimental science has relegated to the realm of the “irrational” (or placebo effect) (Degrandpre 2006, Stengers 2003)? How might the active involvement of bodies, environments, other beings, and other substances alter chemical composition and its effects as a drug moves through them (Landecker 2015, Murphy 2011)? 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)? Finally, what kinds of methodologies and theories are needed to hold together and think through such “witting and unwitting efficacies” of drugs (Hardon & Sanabria 2017)?

Call for Abstracts: We invite interested panelists to submit a paper title, abstract (250 words max), current affiliation and contact info to Laura Meek ( and Rossio Motta-Ochoa ( by April 1, 2018. Decisions about acceptance of abstracts for these panels will be emailed by April 3, 2018.