Drug Fictions: Imagining Prohibition, Race, and Nation in Latin America

Mehfoud, Lauren, Spanish - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mahler, Anne Garland, AS-Spanish, Italian and Portuguese (SPAN), University of Virginia

Drug prohibition and the “war on drugs” both rely on culturally instituted definitions of “drugs” and the people associated with them, such as “traffickers” and “addicts.” Because the implementation of drug policy across Latin America has long been interpreted as acquiescence to U.S. imperialism, local influences on the creation of such concepts are often overlooked. Drug Fictions: Imagining Prohibition, Race, and Nation traces the evolution of antidrug discourses in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Mexico and Colombia. Through an analysis of literature, film, theatre, newspapers, and archival sources surrounding key moments of national drug policy development, this study examines how cultural narratives about drugs intertwine with imaginaries of race and nation. Drug Fictions argues that Mexican and Colombian antidrug discourses have drawn from and adapted fictions about race and nation, supporting the implementation of drug policies that have enabled processes of racial state formation. While both governments have recently indicated an openness to drug policy reform, legal and economic interventions are unable to fully disentangle these substances from the racialized frameworks that made them “drugs” or to remedy the social inequalities engendered by their criminalization. This project deconstructs the discursive foundations of drug prohibition and the “war on drugs” by analyzing the cultural narratives that have produced and contested the concepts that sustain these policies.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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