Join Samuel Kelton Roberts in his keynote address, "An Historiographical Note on People of Color, Drug Politics and Research, and a Harm Reduction Perspective.” He offers an historiographical and methodological note about racialization and ethnic politics in United States drug history since the 1870s. Historical research on the discursive workings of racialization in drug research and political debate makes clear the role of “race” in describing specific drugs as more dangerous than others. These analyses often have the purpose of explaining a set of public policies which putatively targeted undesired drug use but in actuality had the effect of (and often were designed to) limit the social, economic, and geographic mobility of certain stigmatized groups.
This perspective is not unimportant – too few Americans understand the historical role of drug policy in mob violence, lynching, police brutality, and mass incarceration. However, Roberts argues that we have not devoted sufficient attention to ethnic politics in drug history or to the political subjectivities of people who use drugs. In that regard, what Roberts calls a “harm reduction” perspective or approach to drug history offers several advantages in that it questions persistent assumptions about “addiction”, proposes an interrogation of the role of stigma in social hierarchy and public policy, and considers active and former drug users as politically viable. There are ethical and political considerations which motivate this approach, but to the historian, the most compelling may be philosophical.
This event is part of a series of discussions on Science, Technology, and Society, presented by Columbia University and École polytechnique that will take place alternately in New York City and Paris, France. Each event will have a keynote speaker, followed by a roundtable of three to four respondents who will contribute on this question from the perspectives of political science, international affairs, history, and/or science. Live streaming video events will be available on the École polytechnique's YouTube channel.