Talking About the Flow

Drugs, Borders, and the Discourse of Drug Control
  • Paul GootenbergEmail author


This essay explores the relationships between illicit drug flows (my current area of historical research) and state borders. The larger theme, for objects-in-motion, is how statist languages of “control” underlie their construction and maintenance as illicit and criminalized flows. Students of drug trafficking can make public discourses about drugs a usefully explicit object of study. But in doing so they should also beware of the possible intellectual and political pitfalls of “talking like a state”―that is, of adopting the categories or characterizations of the illicit deployed by policing and regulatory agencies―for thinking well about such flows. Among other problems, it is hard for territorial states to supersede their stationary view of shifting, furtive, border-less activities, a dilemma of note in the recent “war on terrorism” as well. The essay winds its way to these ideas by addressing three topics: first, the relation of drugs to commodity studies writ large (how drugs were differentiated from other goods during the historic rise of commercial and industrial capitalism); second, the relation of drugs to the building of borders and states; and third, the role of bureaucratic-control language in marking and naturalizing the thin line between “controlled substances” and freer commodities.


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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, ein Teil von Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State University of New York/Stony Brook UniversityNew YorkUSA

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