Risk / Benefit – Histories of the Illegal Drug/Medicine Boundary
Building on the success of the recent symposium at the University of Strasbourg “Governing Uncertainty in Drugs and Medicines: Narratives of Risk, Progress, and Decline,” we are currently seeking papers from historians and other scholars who share an interest in the histories of pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs in the long twentieth-century. Given current events that have drawn attention to the role of medicines as drugs (such as the U.S. opioid crisis) and the role of drugs as medicines (such as debates about safe injection sites and medical marijuana), we believe that this is an opportune time to examine the ever-changing boundary between “illegal drugs” and “medicines” and to interrogate the stories that we tell about how this boundary has been created, maintained, and challenged.
We are particularly interested in the multifaceted role that ideas about risk and benefit have played in this process. We thus seek papers that examine how risk and/or benefit have been historically conceptualized, narrated, and mobilized to create, reinforce, challenge, and perhaps transcend the boundary between “medicines” and “drugs” in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. We approach the topic of both “risk” and “benefit” not as naturally existing, timeless entities with inherent meanings, but instead as concepts embedded in narrative processes that change over time and shape how we think about these powerful objects. Of course, shoring up the medicine/drug divide has long been one of the central purposes to which notions of both risk and benefit have been put, yet these categories have also been developed and deployed in dramatically different ways by a diverse range of people to serve many different goals. Indeed, contradictory stories about risk and benefit lay at the heart of disputes about the meaning of pharmaceuticals, and thus at the heart of how the drug/medicine binary has been constructed over time.