GU4588: Race, Drugs, and Inequality | S. Roberts

Undergraduate and Graduate Seminar
Tu 2:10-4PM

Through a series of secondary- and primary-source readings and research writing assignments, students in this seminar course will explore one of the most politically controversial aspects in the history of public health in the United States as it has affected peoples of color: intoxicating substances. Course readings are primarily historical, but sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists are also represented on the syllabus. The course's temporal focus - the twentieth century - allows us to explore the historical political and social configurations of opium, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, medical maintenance (methadone), the War on Drugs, the carceral state and hyperpolicing, harm reduction and needle/syringe exchange.

This semester's principal focus will be on the origins and evolution of the set of theories, philosophies, and practices which constitute harm reduction. The International Harm Reduction Association/Harm Reduction International offers a basic, though not entirely comprehensive, definition of harm reduction in its statement, "What is Harm Reduction?": "Harm reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, and the focus on people who continue to use drugs." Harm reduction in many U.S. communities of color, however, has come to connote a much wider range of activity and challenges to the status quo.

In this course, we will explore the development of harm reduction in the United States and trace its evolution in the political and economic context race, urban neoliberalism, and no-tolerance drug war. The course will feature site visits to harm reduction organizations in New York City, guest lectures, and research/oral history analysis. This course has been approved for inclusion in both the African-American Studies and History undergraduate curricula (majors and concentrators).

Prerequisites: the instructor’s permission. 

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