Editor’s Note: Points continues its series of interviews with authors from the latest issue of ADHS’s journal Social History of Alcohol and Drugs (vol. 34, no. 2; Fall 2020), published by the University of Chicago Press. Today we feature Mariana Broglia de Moura, a doctoral candidate at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (Paris, France). You can see her article here. Contact the University of Chicago Press to subscribe to the journal or request access to this article, or any other article from SHAD’s history.
Tell readers a little bit about yourself
I am a PhD student at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. During my doctoral studies, I benefited from a scholarship from the Labex TEPSIS, and I am attached to the laboratories Centre Maurice Halbwachs (ENS) and Mondes Américains (EHESS) under the supervision of Benoît de l’Estoile and Mônica Schpun. My research has been greatly enriched by a stay at the Centre for the Social History of Health and Healthcare of the University of Strathclyde (Scotland) where I studied with Jim Mills. I’ve had the opportunity to publish various articles about the history of Brazilian drugs policies.
What got you interested in drugs (and their history)?
My interest in drugs came initially as a result of my Master’s Thesis, which lay at the intersection of the anthropology of health and of the history of science. I wrote about the emergence of the categories of behavioural addictions—specifically sexual addiction—in France. I wanted to understand the transformations in the field of sexuality since the 19th century, which have led us to frame a relationship to sexuality in terms of “addiction.” And, in the field of addiction, how addiction—which initially referred to the use of substances—was then extended during the 20th century to encompass a whole range of behaviours. This went hand-in-hand with a reflection about the extension of the new medical power of addictology, which led to the emergence of new social and professional actors. I also investigated preventive policies for behaviours which are socially and economically incited, but whose abuses need to be controlled.
The year I finished my Master’s Thesis, the city of São Paulo, Brazil, began to implement a very interesting public policy on drugs called “Open Arms,” which focused on Cracolândia, a long-standing site of crack cocaine consumption in the city. This program aimed to help drug users improve their precarious situations, by providing them with access to housing, work, training, and healthcare, without requiring them—at least theoretically—to abstain from drugs. This program was part of a broader policy of gentrification of the inner city.
I became interested in the role assigned to the “trafficker.” Social inclusion programs typically did not take “traffickers” into account, and “traffickers” were often blamed for the failure of these outreach efforts. The problematic opposition between “trafficker” and “user” led me to take a historical view to try to understand how, over time, drug “prohibitionist” systems have divided and treated different categories of people like “producers,” “traffickers,” and “users.” I then took another step back from my a priori assumptions, and I decided to question the idea that the drugs policies that developed from the early 20th century could be merely characterized as a system of prohibition and repression. I reoriented my thesis project and studied the activities of the first Brazilian commission in charge of regulating, controlling, and repressing drugs: the National Drug Control Commission (1936-1976).
Explain your journal article in a way that your bartender won’t find boring.
This is the story of the first Brazilian Commission in charge of dealing with drugs between the 1930s and 1970s, a time in Brazilian history when the Brazilian federal government was making efforts to gain power and extend its activities. Despite what you might think when hearing about a fight against drugs in Brazil—imagining, perhaps, a highly militarized police force repressing drug trafficking in the “favelas”—this Commission was organized around two main activities: regulation/control and repression.
The Commission believed that an important source of drug addiction in Brazil was the illicit traffic and bad practices of doctors and pharmacists—and not necessarily of drug traffickers. For this reason, it established numerous regulatory tools and placed careful controls on health professionals who had privileged access to drugs. State inspectors, for instance, were in charge of verifying, through books, stock movements, or prescriptions, that doctors, pharmacists, and others did not divert drugs from their legal therapeutic purposes.
For example, hypothetically speaking, it would be like if you, as a bartender, had to keep an up-to-date book recording each glass of alcohol you sold with the name and address of each customer, at the risk of getting fines, having your bottles confiscated, your right to practice the profession of bartender revoked, or even of being sent to jail. All this because you, as a bartender, were suspected of being responsible for the alcoholism of your customers. My research focuses on the enormous number of records and papers this administrative system produced.
At the same time, the Commission was in charge of repressing the illicit drug use that occurred outside of the legal regime of licensing, prescriptions, and regulations. Scattered throughout its territory, particularly, in the North and North-East, Brazil had many cannabis users, who smoked it in groups or for rituals. The Commission considered these practices as a kind of out-of-control “tropical disease” and launched various expeditions to investigate and repress this cannabis use.
I’m researching the work of the doctors, bureaucrats, and agronomists who carried out these investigations. They focused particularly on the customs and uses of cannabis by these supposedly “backward populations.” They wanted to develop a national expertise on cannabis which they often described as a typically Brazilian problem.
Is this part of a larger project? What else are you working on?
This article deals with some material from my PhD thesis, which focuses on the history of the Commission’s drug regulation and repression in Brazil. Beyond the themes of this article, my work also examines Brazil’s international and interregional drug diplomacy during the 20th century; the detailed processes of control and repression of legal drugs market; and how the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s modified national drug policies and marginalized the Commission I study.
Based on your research and experience, what do you see as the frontier or future of the field?
I think some recent events like the opioid crisis have shown the difficulty and danger of reducing so-called drugs issue to the grammar of the war on drugs and organized crime. One of the great recent achievements by history and social sciences scholars studying drugs has been the development of an approach—very interesting politically—that blurs the easy boundaries between “drugs” and “medicines.” Indeed, this analytical framework allows us to avoid a structural division that has dominated the field of drugs for too long. We had, on the one hand, research about drug policies understood through the lens of prohibition as a radical ban on all drugs, whose most visible effects were repressive and exclusionary. On the other hand, we had studies about medicines focused largely on the pharmaceutical industry and governmental regulation of legal medicines.
I am certainly not criticizing the fantastic academic work which has been produced on both sides of this division. Rather, I hope to point out that this artificial and socially constructed divide has made it difficult for scholars of both topics to embrace a common analytical framework to allow, for instance, analysis of drugs from the viewpoint of regulation or the analysis of medicines from the viewpoint of repression. As a more personal proposal, I believe that a good way to bridge these divisions would be to use the Foucauldian framework of the differential management of illegalisms to analyse how practices related to drugs and medicines have been managed differently. This approach has been well developed in other fields such as illegalisms of white collars criminality and could also be a fruitful analytical technique for scholars of drugs and medicines.
What scholar, living or dead, would you most like to have dinner with?
Well, that’s not an easy question! I guess I would have to write a thesis to fully answer it… But, if I had to choose, I would be happy to share some thoughts about mysticism and glue with Alain de Libera!