Shanghai Reflections: A Final Postcard

Editor’s Note: As a final word, here are a few thoughts from Diana L. Ahmad of the Missouri University of Science and Technology, and a participant at the conference.  Thanks to Diana for taking a moment to prepare these thoughts.  In late June, over forty scholars from four continents and eight countries gathered at Shanghai …

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“From Addicts to Athletes: Youth Mobilities and the Politics of Digital Gaming in Urban China”

Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Marcella Szablewicz.  Marcy received an MA in East Asian Studies from Duke University and a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric, under the advisement of Drs. June Deery and Tamar Gordon, from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Communication and Media.  She is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow in MIT’s department of Comparative Media Studies.  You can find more of her work online at www.feiyaowan.com.

 1)    Nothing’s more popular right now than taking potshots at over-specialized, overstuffed, jargon-y academics.  Prove the haters wrong by describing your dissertation in terms that the average man in the street could understand.

“From Addicts to Athletes” departs from a simple premise: Recent statistics have shown that over three hundred million Chinese play Internet games. But while many young people argue that games provide free space in which to achieve necessary release from the pressures of society, the government and media often depict games as a kind of “opium for the spirit” that adversely affects Chinese youth.

Smells Like Opium for the Teen Spirit

Motivated to understand the logic behind these drastically different perspectives, in my research I trace the shifting discourses and practices of digital gaming in urban China, paying particular attention to the various ways that digital games are socially shaped —both how young Chinese describe and remember the importance of games in their social lives and how gaming is portrayed in government and media discourse. Based on ethnographic fieldwork spanning six years, I explore the mechanisms by which different games come to be constructed as either “healthy” or “unhealthy” and the corresponding processes by which the gamers who play them are portrayed as either “addicts” or “athletes.”  Despite belonging to the realm of so-called “free” time, I show that digital games and those who play them do not go unencumbered by political realities.  To the contrary, I contend that such constructions are rooted in larger cultural debates about patriotism and productivity, class and the crafting of the “ideal citizen.”

This notion of the ideal citizen is set against the backdrop of the precarious economic futures faced by youth in contemporary urban China.

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Shanghai Reflections, Part Two: Talking Across Levels of Analysis

Editor’s Note: Today, the Points blog presents the second part of my (Joe Spillane) reflections on the recently-concluded meeting, “Drugs and Drink in Asia: New Perspectives from History.”  Part one of these reflections considered the problem of talking across substances, while today’s comments consider the challenges posed by integrating levels of analysis.

We interrupted the first day of the conference to gather for a group photo near the meeting room where we had already completed the meeting’s first session.

Drugs and Drink in Asia Conference Participants

The session, which I chaired, was “Drugs and Empire”–and it highlighted some of the challenges in talked across levels of analysis at our conference.  Let’s begin with Zhiliang Su (Shanghai Normal University) and his paper, “Opium and the Progress of Asian History.”  Prof. Su offered something of a traditional narrative we would hear repeated several times at the meeting, one in which engagement with opium initiated a series of developments through which, “China lost both its sovereignty and conception and dignity and confidence” (from the translation by Pan Zhang, a Fudan University graduate student).  Opium, imposed on China by the British and later by the Japanese, is both the tool and symbol of imperial domination–the antithesis of personal and national sovereignty, with a decided focus on the latter.

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Monetize the Blog!

Gentle readers, if  you felt a pang go through you when you read yesterday that co-founder and co-managing editor Joe Spillane was stepping down from his lofty perch at Points, you were not alone.  The blog has gained both maturity and momentum in the last eight months, and those have brought stability to our day-to-day operations. But steering Points remains a demanding job, and while Joe is kind to call me “indefatigable,” his departure does bring us to a kind of turning point. How fortunate for us that just this weekend I was contacted by a marketing firm whose client–a drug treatment facility– would like to place their “high quality content” dealing with addiction and recovery on Points!

And Your Content Too

This is not the first invitation we’ve had to commoditize.  More than one person (at least one of whom was somebody’s well-meaning family member) has suggested we sign up with Google’s “AdSense” and start generating revenue by selling space on the blog to advertisers.  Last winter, another marketing firm (actually, pretty clearly an independent contractor doing piece work from home in one of those jobs you see advertised on a telephone pole) approached us about embedding links to relevant products and services into our posts. The occasion was guest blogger Michelle Garcia’s post on “Border History as Drugs History”; the linked-to product in this instance was a guide to online degree programs in Homeland Security Studies. And the going rate? Fifty bucks per link.

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Shanghai Reflections, Part One: Talking Across Substances

Editor’s Note: This week, I’ll be offering up some reflections on the recently-concluded conference, “Drugs and Drink in Asia: New Perspectives from History,” which was held at the Shanghai University on June 22 and 23, 2012.  The conference itself was organized by Drs. Yong-an Zhang, James H. Mills, and myself (Joe Spillane).  The sponsoring organizations included James Mills’ University of Strathclyde, the Wellcome Trust, the David F. Musto Center for Drug Policy Studies at Shanghai University (headed by Yong-an Zhang), and the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.  As the current President of the latter organization, I was very pleased to assist with the meeting, and to help welcome attendees.  The late Professor Musto would have been very gratified, I think, to have seen this gathering of younger and more senior scholars–together, they provided ample evidence of the maturation of the field of drugs and alcohol history.  Our hope in organizing this meeting was to showcase the “new perspectives” promised in the conference title, and to develop conversations across the boundaries of nation, substance, discipline, and method.  In this week’s posts, I’ll step back and offer some preliminary thoughts on those conversations.

Before I begin, a brief bit of news for Points readers: this month, I’m stepping down as one of the Managing Editors’ for the Points blog.  It has been two years since Trysh Travis and I began preparing to launch this new enterprise, and about eighteen months since our first post.  Since then, we have published over 350 more posts, and attracted a modestly sizable readership.  Most of this success is courtesy of the indefatigable Trysh Travis, with whom it has been an absolute pleasure to work.  I will remain a fully engaged consumer of this blog’s content, and an occasional contributor as well, and look forward to seeing what new surprises Points has in store during the years to come.  Now, back to Shanghai…

Conference banner
Advertising drugs, drink, and discussion

Conference themes are a curious thing.  In theory, they promise a great deal, but all too often end up being nibbled at around the edges over the course of a meeting.  Broad enough to sound exciting, themes are generally also capacious enough to include a lot of conversations that happen simultaneously but largely separately.  The idea of talking about “Drugs and Drink in Asia: New Perspectives from History” provides us with just this sort theme–just coherent enough to tantalize the participant with the possibilities for engaging academic interactions, just big enough to make one worry that too much was going on.

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Community Health Centers Reconsidered: Addiction Treatment in an Era of Health Care Reform

President Barack Obama’s signature on the SCOTUS-upheld Affordable Care Act

The Supreme Court’s affirmation of the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as the ACA or “Obamacare”) two weeks ago was a landmark decision, bringing the United States closer to achieving—as supporters say down here in Georgia—health care for y’all.

Across the country, “health care” today means more than primary care. The passage of the Wellstone-Domenici Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act in 2008 established parity for mental health and addiction treatment, which means that private insurance providers are required to fund these services in much the same way that they cover care for more traditional physical ailments. Thanks to this precedent, more health care coverage should mean increased access to mental health and addiction services.

In a recent article in Health Affairs, behavioral scientist David Mechanic argued that the ACA, along with the now-endangered Medicaid expansion, has the capability to “begin to fulfill the many unmet promises of community mental health care.” To meet the increased demand for behavioral health services, the Obama administration’s planned implementation of the ACA will continue to boost federal support for Community Health Centers that integrate mental health, crisis support or substance abuse treatment into their suite of services. Given this expensive (and still controversial) plan, it’s worth re-examining the large-scale social project we might be reviving. What are the “unmet promises of community care”?

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CFP: Challenging Punishment: The War on Drugs, Race, and Public Health

From Donna Murch, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Rutgers University, and Samuel K. Roberts, PhD, Associate Professor of History (Columbia University) and Sociomedical Sciences (Mailman School of Public Health) This Call for Papers invites historical essays dealing with aspects of the U.S. War on Drugs, WWII to the present. The pre-circulated papers will be presented …

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The Adventures of Tintin in the Opium Empire

Tintin in the Opium Empire

At a very early age we have been exposed to one of the most influential images of drug use in our culture. Reading as children the comic book The Blue Lotus, we see Tintin lying in an opium den in Shanghai (named The Blue Lotus) and pretending to smoke an opium pipe. To children the book is of course only a gripping and exotic adventure story. Opium dens have disappeared from our cities. But the image lasts, permanently fixing associations of passivity, otherness, and harmfulness with the smoking of opium.

High on Opium

The Blue Lotus shows that drugs are tools used by sinister dealers and foreign powers in their attempts to enslave free people. An image in a comic book that is so powerful that children and adults continue to read it up until the present day. In 1999 the readers of the French newspaper Le Monde elected The Blue Lotus the eighteenth best book of the twentieth century.

Of course there is much more to Tintin than the breath-taking adventure.

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