ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(P08)

Tobacco and Enlightenment

Location Appleton Tower, Seminar Room 2.14
Date and Start Time 21 June, 2014 at 11:00

Convenors

Andrew Russell (Durham University) email
Jude Robinson (University of Liverpool) email
Sue Lewis (Durham University) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

Tobacco was a mainstay of Enlightenment thought and commerce. Its position in many 'New World' societies contrasts with the opprobrium in which it is held in global public health circles today. This panel considers the dual potential of this plant for enlightenment and destruction.

Long Abstract

Tobacco was a mainstay of the intellectual discussions which took place in the coffee shops and drinking houses of the Scottish Enlightenment. Its burgeoning position as a 'New World' commodity was an important prop to the free trade, capitalist interests which the Enlightenment propagated. The story of tobacco in Europe, from its 17th century arrival and early exploitation to its contemporary industrial-level production and distribution under the control of transnational corporate and state-owned institutions, contrasts markedly with the ways in which it has been produced and used across millennia by indigenous populations in South and North America and other parts of the world. Amongst many such groups, tobacco is frequently regarded as akin to a master plant, a blessing from the gods that is both an essential element in the negotiation of relations with the spirit world and a source of everyday health and wellbeing. These ideas are echoed in the accounts of some western smokers, including artists and intellectuals, about why they still smoke. Such views differ radically from the negative ways in which tobacco is portrayed in contemporary global public health discourses, as a product which is both stigmatizing to its consumers and destructive to human health and happiness. With the prospect of it causing 1 billion premature deaths in the coming century, 80% of them in lower income countries, the papers in this panel will consider the dual characteristics of the tobacco plant - its potential as an agent of both enlightenment and destruction.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Hidden in plain sight: what part did tobacco play in the clubs that fuelled the Enlightenment?

Author: Jane Macnaughton (Durham University)  email

Summary

Clubs and societies played an important part in the development of Enlightenment thinking but little attention has been paid to their material culture. Contemporary literary allusions suggest a role for tobacco which this paper will discuss.

Long Abstract

Much has been written about the membership and social relations in the discussion clubs and societies that fuelled Enlightenment thinking. 'The Easy Club', 'The Mirror Club' and the 'Select Society' were all formed in the 18th Century and involved important Enlightenment thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Hume, who was enthusiastic about these voluntary associations: 'Both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner; and the tempers of men, as well as their behaviour, refine apace..' (Porter, 2000: 246). The formation of these clubs reflected not only a burgeoning in intellectual ideas but also huge social changes as they were only possible in the context of a rising educated middle class whose wealth was in part, in cities such as Glasgow, created by the Tobacco industry. In view of this, it is surprising how little attention has been paid to the role of tobacco as part of the material culture of clubbable society during the Enlightenment. We have some intriguing glimpses of it in, for example, the work of Robert Burns, whose amusingly entitled poem 'The Twa Dogs. A Tale' (written in 1706) describes the easy sociability of two dogs discussing human class politics in which 'the luntan pipe, an' sneeshing mill [snuff box]' play a part. This paper will draw on contemporary anthropological theories of materiality to investigate some of these glimpses. From these morsels, it will attempt to reconstruct tobacco's place within the sociability of the Enlightenment.

Tobacco in lowland South America and elsewhere: shifting perspectives on the Enlightenment

Author: Andrew Russell (Durham University)  email

Summary

The movement of tobacco across the Atlantic contributed significantly to the development of Enlightenment thought and commerce with consequences that are being felt to this day. Indigenous tobacco use offers cross-cultural perspectives on tobacco as an agent of both enlightenment and destruction.

Long Abstract

Courtwright (2001) argues that the movement of tobacco, alcohol and caffeinated products across the Atlantic as part of the 'Columbian Exchange' was "a deliberate, profit driven process" marked by large-scale production methods, widespread consumption and rapid cultural integration. However, focussing on the ecological and economic aspects of this transatlantic traffic masks consideration of other aspects of this exchange, not least the role of tobacco as a precursor and mainstay of Enlightenment thought across Europe. In this paper I will argue that at least some of the differentiating features of the Enlightenment era may be attributed to the ingress of tobacco into western society. However, if the development of cultural perspective was a hallmark of the Enlightenment (Wolff 2007) it is curious how important cross-cultural perspectives on indigenous tobacco use were lost when tobacco traversed the Atlantic. Using lowland South America as a source of ethnographic examples I will argue for the need to shift perspectives again - to see tobacco as an agent not only of intellectual enlightenment but also as the mediator in networks of transnational corporations, governments and consumers with what are increasingly destructive results for humanity.

E-cigarettes: enlightened approach or new social and public health threat?

Author: Sue Lewis (Durham University)  email

Summary

E-cigarette use is growing with belief and opinion driving debate on whether they are to be considered "good" or "bad". For smokers, e-cigarettes offer the opportunity to be socially acceptable again. Meanwhile, health professionals and policy-makers appear unsure whether to approve or disapprove.

Long Abstract

The use of e-cigarettes is growing. It is doing so in the face of established and scientifically-derived knowledge that smoking is bad for personal and public health, and resultant anti-smoking policies, but also argument from some commentators that smoking's role in individual and social lives has been overlooked by public health and tobacco control practitioners. The e-cigarette delivers a nicotine dose, without (as far as is known) any of the detrimental accompaniments associated with the traditional cigarette. In other words, it mimics "treatments" such as patches, offered by health practitioners to would-be ex-smokers as a harm reduction strategy and should perhaps, therefore, be immune to censure. But it also allows the smoker to engage, visibly and socially, in what has become a largely stigmatised activity. This is accompanied by a new language - smoking has become "vaping" - and opportunity to individualise one's equipment in ways increasingly closed to the regular tobacco smoker. Research evidence for or against e-cigarettes is still lacking and so the gap is being rapidly filled, from both sides of the argument, with stories of personal experience, opinion and belief. Drawing on published opinion pieces, responses from public health and policy-makers and taking inspiration from Scottish Enlightenment thought, this paper will ask if and how e-cigarettes might be an 'enlightened approach' or if they should be considered, at best, just one more route to the eventual elimination of tobacco and nicotine.

Working drugs: female call centre workers' labour, smoking and subjectivity in South Korea

Author: Kwanwook Kim (Durham University)  email

Summary

Women's smoking rates in South Korea are increasing despite the harsh stigma with respect to female smoking in the country. Ethnographic research in a call centre highlighted the role of tobacco as a 'working drug', regardless of the stigma its users face in other situations.

Long Abstract

Public health statistics are starting to uncover particularly high smoking rates amongst certain groups such as female call centre workers in South Korea. I undertook six months' ethnographic research in a call centre to understand the role of smoking in the lives of its largely female workforce of 400. Thirty five per cent of the women working there smoked (compared to a Korean average of 8%). In this environment, cigarettes had become, and were used as, efficient working drugs ('tools'). Women who smoked were provided with a comfortable, easily accessible outdoor smoking area and guaranteed smoking breaks. As they normally lacked opportunities to smoke freely in public due to others' indignant stares, the call centre was a smoking 'heaven' for them. Employees who smoked explained their habit with reference to the anger and stress of dealing with difficult calls. They also appreciated the social contact and 'break time' smoking permitted them. However, their employers allowed workers to smoke not through concern for their welfare but as a way of managing their emotional labour more efficiently. The physical and electronic surveillance systems in place, and the need for workers to earn bonuses based on number of calls answered, meant that no employee spent more than four minutes in the smoking area. Smoking thus became deeply embedded in workers' lives while at the same time leading to the reproduction of embodied social stigma rather than resistance to it.

Gifts, bonds and social ties: the place of cigarettes in the British Army

Author: Jude Robinson (University of Liverpool)  email

Summary

Smoking rates remain high in parts of the British Army, sustained by a historic smoking culture. Accounts from soldiers and recruits suggest that giving and receiving cigarettes continues to sustain social relationships and smoking remains part of becoming/ being a 'soldier'.

Long Abstract

Despite the declining of numbers of smokers in the general population of the UK, in some areas of the armed services rates of smoking remain high and are believed to be highest in the Infantry regiments in the Army. Using Mauss's enlightening notion of gift giving as a reciprocal act to facilitate and cement social ties, I draw on accounts of smoking by recruits and soldiers in the British Army to consider how cultural ideas and normative army practices sustain smoking. Smoking related to identity, forming part of what it meant to be(come) 'the old and bold solider', with some recruits starting smoking after they joined the Army. Cigarettes were circulated relatively freely, but followed particular social pathways, which expanded and contracted depending on changing social, geographical and working contexts. Gifts of cigarettes were not always repaid, and could represent a social debt, or be converted to prestige on the part of the giver. The adoption of a preferred brand among many soldiers ensured that the gift of cigarettes was both acceptable and potentially repayable with a 'like' gift, with other brands representing higher or lesser value, and so creating further debt/ indebtedness. While cigarettes and smoking represent only a small part of wider army culture, they remain potent symbols and act as the physical, embodied manifestation of the ideal concepts of bonding, co-operation and support. As smoking/ cigarettes are believed to mitigate other, destructive, behaviours they may make this population particularly resistant to conventional health messages.

Rastafari perspectives on tobacco and enlightenment

Author: Anna Waldstein (University of Kent)  email

Summary

In Rastafari discussions, rituals and performances, tobacco and cannabis smoking keep participants in higher states of consciousness. Yet its health risks give tobacco an ambiguous place in Rastafari. Attitudes toward tobacco reflect recent developments in several UK-based Rastafari institutions.

Long Abstract

Although cannabis is widely known as the most sacred plant in the Rastafari pharmacopoeia, for many who follow the livity (lived spirituality) in the UK, tobacco is its constant companion. In Rastafari political discussions, ceremonies and musical performances, tobacco and cannabis are smoked together in spliffs and chalices, which aim to keep participants in higher states of consciousness. Spiritual rationales for these practices acknowledge the place of tobacco in indigenous American religions. For some Rastafari, smoking tobacco may also be seen as a spiritual burden that serves as a reminder of time in prison, while for others it is a way to 'stretch' precious reserves of cannabis. However, Rastafari livity is focused on maximising health and well-being, as well as avoiding the products of consumer capitalism. As such, some Rastafari advocate smoking only cannabis (or even smoking nothing at all), citing the risks of tobacco to public health. This paper explores the place of tobacco in Rastafari livity in the UK. Based on discussions and interviews with a Rastafari mentor, as well as observations made at numerous public gatherings and events over the past three years, I argue that attitudes toward tobacco reflect recent political developments in several UK-based Rastafari institutions. An openness to New World spiritual practices involving tobacco is indicative of a growing inclusiveness within Rastafari. Like tobacco, the inclusion of people from outside the African diaspora has an ambiguous place in contemporary Rastafari. Will these developments fuel enlightenment or destruction in this Pan-Africanist movement?

Caring, not quitting: affective meanings of smoking in a former mining village in the north east of England

Author: Frances Thirlway (Durham University)  email

Summary

Tobacco is sometimes presented as an agent of enlightenment as well as destruction. I argue that in one English community, smoking was an unremarkable practice which was neither glamorised nor stigmatised, but reproduced as an affective link to previous generations.

Long Abstract

Following extensive fieldwork mainly with older people in an ex-mining village in County Durham, I argue that smoking in this stable community was an unremarkable, everyday practice which was neither glamorised nor stigmatised, but which functioned as a marker of responsible adulthood involving taking on responsibilities within the family and replicating its values. Affective memories of parental smoking made it difficult for continuing and indeed former smokers to distance themselves definitively from cigarettes, with relapses common even after many years of cessation, and in old age. Women in particular reproduced maternal smoking patterns at the same time as gendered caring roles. The two main factors which facilitated smoking cessation were social mobility, which created distance from parental memories, and urgent health threats to self or family which remade the once friendly and familiar cigarette as alien and dangerous. Those who continued to smoke were not so much 'hardened smokers' as discouraged quitters in a community where chronic ill-health (often linked to occupational exposures) was a commonplace for smokers, former smokers and never-smokers alike.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.