, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 51-77

When Love Meets Drugs: Pharmaceuticalizing Ambivalence in Post-Socialist China

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Abstract

In this article, I examine the interaction between intimacy and psychiatry to explore the ambivalences in the use of pharmaceuticals in psychiatric practice. Of particular interest is how pharmaceuticals come to constitute in multiple ways what pathology is and what form of life needs to be restored, and how psychiatric medications reconfigure the ambivalence of intimacy in post-socialist China. Following the life of Mei, a female psychiatric patient, for two years, I have made a series of discoveries related to medicine and intimacy in China. Specifically, I show that psychopharmaceuticals indicate a diseased body that threatens the intimate bond. They also highlight a socially suffering subject that is in lack of love from the intimate partner who demands the latter’s redemption. I discuss how these multiple and contradicting meanings of psychopharmaceuticals and intimacy are socio-historically situated. Thus, while previous research in medical anthropology criticizes pharmaceuticalization for reducing the socio-political life (bios) to a biological body (zoē), I argue that these life forms co-exist in a pharmaceutical “zone of indistinction” (Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1998), in which they constitute and contradict each other. This discussion warns researchers against falling back into the usual orientation of either biomedicine or the social sciences.

This study is approved by the Social and Behavioral Sciences Institutional Review Board at the University of Chicago (H09371). It is also approved by the Division of Research and Education of CBH, Guangzhou, China.