- Christy Spackman (Harvey Mudd College) email
- Danya Glabau (Brooklyn Institute for Social Research) email
What happens when pharmaceuticals overflow the boundaries imposed by regulatory structures, carrier materials, and places and methods of production? This panel explores how new theoretical frameworks, methodologies, approaches and actors can contribute to addressing risk in a pharmaceutical world.
When birth control hormones are found in drinking water and fish in streams contain Prozac, it is time to acknowledge that pharmaceuticals have gone rogue. If illness is the "new normal" (Dumit 2012), then the bioactive materials that at once define, sustain, or assuage illness will inevitably escape the limits imagined in their usage scripts. The papers in this panel ask what happens when pharmaceuticals overflow the boundaries imposed by regulatory structures, carrier materials, and places and methods of production. What new risks-to bodies and environments-appear in an increasingly pharmaceuticalized world? Jia-Shin Chen explores how technological and institutional architectures in Taiwan shape and ignore usage of buprenorphine, a commonly used opioid replacement, suggesting that structural partitions between technologies and institutions limits policy efforts. Nina Honkela examines how failures to engage the public emotionally circumscribes effectiveness of responses to epigenetic threats from pharmaceutical estrogens. Victoria Boydell demonstrates that women's off-script usage of oral contraceptives to remake their bodies to fit modern exigencies nonetheless reinforce historical gender scripts. Christy Spackman traces how knowledge of circular pharmaceutical flows from human into marine bodies--aquatic and otherwise--is made absent or present by water utilities, suggesting that the active erasure of pharmaceutical presence in public outreach campaigns has shifted realms of expertise into non-traditional scientific actors. Taken together, this panel demonstrates the possibilities offered to this "brave new" pharmaceutical world by theoretical frameworks, methodologies, approaches and actors.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.
Delineating the Architecture of Buprenorphine Distribution in Taiwan
This study draws on Shobita Parthasarathy’s idea of architecture as a sensitizing concept to approach buprenorphine distribution as a heterogeneous techno-institutional assemblage that cannot be fully understood without knowledge of the complex local history about opium and its derivatives in Taiwan.
Buprenorphine is an effective medication used in many parts of the world for the treatment of opioid-dependent individuals. Research has been conducted to examine the risk of and reasons for its diversion, that is, use of this drug by people who do not own the prescription. However, none of these studies have been conducted in East Asia, and a satisfactory integrative theoretical framework that addresses the condition of buprenorphine distribution, if not diversion, is yet to be established. This study draws on Shobita Parthasarathy's idea of architecture as a sensitizing concept to approach buprenorphine distribution as a heterogeneous techno-institutional assemblage that cannot be fully understood without knowledge of the complex local history about opium and its derivatives in Taiwan. By analyzing archival data and in-depth interviews, this article delineates the technological aspect of the architecture as involving pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, and the science of similarity. This article also discusses the institutional aspect of the architecture, which comprises partitioned governance, insurance exclusion, and commercial interests. The two aspects are entangled; thus, the ways that buprenorphine is known, used, and circulated are variable and often locally specific. This article, by providing a case study that examines the conditions of existence and movement of controlled substances, offers social scientists and policy makers insights for future work.
"No Books of Life Without a Functioning Printing Press!" Reframing pharmaceutical estrogens as a biodiversity problem
Despite regulation, it will take a long time before pharmaceutical estrogens such as EE2 will be phased out. There thus remains a need for affective measures to awaken concern. Similar metaphors that have been used to articulate biodiversity concern should be used regarding pharmaceutical estrogens.
Ethinyl estradiol or EE2 is one of the most potent pharmaceutical estrogens, causing a number of irreversible changes to the reproductive systems of organisms across the globe. It is also one of the few such chemicals for which regulatory action has been undertaken in the EU. However, it is anticipated that it will take a very long time before this chemical will be phased out of production. One problem is the general silence of the public on this issue, another is that the cost of addressing the problem might lead to the "solution" being just learning to live with the damage. Even those however who recognize the severity of the issue find fault in the ways in which the issue has hitherto been represented in public discourse, i.e. as either a regulatory dilemma or as a matter of personal avoidance of chemicals by women. This paper agrees with the thrust of the latter criticism. Yet there remains a clear need for affective measures to be taken in order to awaken the too silent public. To address this, I suggest that similar metaphors that have been used to articulate concern for biodiversity loss - "burning" "the data" stored in "the library of life" - should be used for awakening concern for pharmaceutical estrogens, the urgent threat here being the continuous and irreversible corrosion of the "printing press" used to produce the "books" in the ever smaller " library of life".
The Pharmaceutical Hauntings of Erasure
This paper traces the quantification practices integral to the detection and erasure of pharmaceuticals after they are discarded or excreted into the aquatic environment. It argues that institutional practices of measuring erasure threaten not only individual bodies but also the body politic.
When does one successfully arrive at zero? Removal of twenty-first century pollutants such as pharmaceuticals from the environment requires significant technological intervention. Municipal water producers routinely claim that their treatment processes render water free of pharmaceutical remains. Others claim that pharmaceuticals persist in trace amounts, showing up as uncertain "hauntings" (Gordon 2008) in the food and water supply. Although scholars such as Joe Dumit and Stefan Ecks (2005) have highlighted the pharmaceuticalization of everyday life, less attention has been given to the management of the post-lives of drugs, despite the uncertainty regarding what pharmaceuticals do as they circulate beyond their original scripted roles in combinations and concentrations that defy current toxicological models. Drawing methodologically on geographers Ian Cook and Michelle Harrison's (2007) approach of "following" a thing, and theoretically from the recent turn in science studies to the "formulation of negation" (Croissant, 2014), this paper traces the quantification practices integral to the detection and erasure of pharmaceuticals after they are discarded or excreted into the aquatic environment. Through examination of how toxicologists and water works professionals measure and mitigate trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, I demonstrate that institutional practices of measuring erasure threaten to impose new burdens not only on individual bodies, but also on the relationships of trust necessary for maintaining support for critical public infrastructures.
This track is closed to new paper proposals.