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Points (n.) 1. marks of punctuation. 2. something that has position but not extension, as the intersection of two lines. 3. salient features of a story, epigram, joke, etc.:  he hit the high points. 4. (slang; U.S.) needles for intravenous drug use.

Unidad, Servicio y Recuperación: Twelve-Step Recovery in Civil War Guatemala, Part II

Editor’s Note: Today we finish our two-part series from Dr. Heather Vrana on the history of Alcoholics Anonymous in Latin America. Check out the first part here. You can find out more about Dr. Vrana and her work here

Treatments tell us about more than scientific understandings of ailments. They also reveal cultural and social beliefs. Injections of strychnine and insulin characterized treatment for alcoholism, addiction, and their related manias for about six decades from the late 1800s into the mid-20th century in Latin America. Incarcerated in a logic of addiction as disease, treatment was individual and invasive. Then, the twelve-step method—the 1960 Prensa Libre article called it the “gregarious exercise”—took over. Suddenly alcoholics and addicts could help one another without the risks and costs of hospitalization. While the civil war raged outside the doors, recovering alcoholics and addicts recited the Oración de la Serenidad.

One of the most intriguing, yet largely ignored, legacies of the civil war in Guatemala is the proliferation of twelve-step recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Neurotics Anonymous (N/A) in every department, city, pueblo, and aldea. The previous blog post discussed the arrival of AA to Guatemala. This post addresses NA and N/A and how their proliferation fit within the nation’s complex and violent civil war. 

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Unidad, Servicio y Recuperación: Twelve-Step Recovery in Civil War Guatemala, Part I

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Heather Vrana. Vrana (Ph.D. Indiana University, 2013) is Associate Professor of Modern Latin America in the Department of History at the University of Florida. Vrana’s research interests include disability, social movements, human rights, photography, and youth and student movements in Central America. She is author of the monograph This City Belongs to You: A History of Student Activism in Guatemala (University of California Press, 2017) and the anthology Anti-colonial Texts from Central American Student Movements 1929-1983 (Edinburgh University Press, 2017). She is co-editor with Julie Gibbings of Out of the Shadow: Revisiting the Revolution from Post-Peace Guatemala (University of Texas Press, 2020). Her articles have appeared in the Journal of Genocide Research, the Radical History Review, and elsewhere. Vrana has conducted archival and oral history research in Central America since 2007, focusing first on Guatemala, then on Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Today’s post is the first of a two-part series on AA in Latin America; the second part will run on Thursday. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its sister fellowship Narcotics Anonymous (NA) arrived in Central America during the region’s nearly four-decade crucible of civil war. Incredibly, at a time when gathering in private was suspicious, if not explicitly forbidden (by countless states of emergency, curfews, and skirmishes), anonymous alcoholics and addicts met in homes and rented rooms most nights of the week. In their move to Central America, very little changed in the texts and practices of the fellowships. The literature and spoken rituals (like the Serenity Prayer, or Oración de la Serenidad) of group meetings were direct translations from the English-language texts. But the mid-1990s saw the emergence of a new and distinct twelve-step program, Neurotics Anonymous (N/A). 

The civil wars have largely been the purview of social movement history. At the same time, social movement history and alcohol and drug history are essentially separate subfields. But together they suggest why twelve-step recovery was so popular in Central America and, in turn, how some Central Americans responded to the trauma, political violence, and religious tensions of the wars and their aftermath. Histories of alcohol and drugs have turned decisively toward transnational and global approaches, a turn the upcoming bi-annual conference of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society aptly reflects. This research proposes that the same approaches might be usefully brought to bear on transnational and global exchanges of recovery.

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Dr. Heather Vrana

In this and a follow-up blog post, I summarize the history of three central twelve-step recovery groups in Guatemala: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Neurotics Anonymous. Like Stanley Brandes, whose wonderful Staying Sober in Mexico City offers a rare ethnography of AA outside of the U.S., I am curious about the reasons for AA’s impressive expansion in Latin America. But where Brandes emphasizes AA’s adaptability, I find orthodoxy. Through that orthodoxy, twelve-step programs provided an apparently apolitical outlet for affects, thoughts, and outlooks that were outcomes of political turmoil before and during the civil war (1960-1996). I also suggest that meeting spaces and fellowship practices provided a space for community that was largely unfettered by surveillance and political repression at a time when that was hard to come by. 

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Mark Your Calendars: ADHS Bi-Annual Conference, Mexico City, 7-10 June 2021

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We’re excited to announce the Alcohol and Drugs History Society’s next bi-annual conference will be held in Mexico City from June 7-10, 2021. The conference is a collaboration between the ADHS, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México-Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (IIS-UNAM) and El Colegio de México-Centro de Estudios Internacionales (CEI-Colmex).

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The Points Interview: Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to feature a Points Interview with Holly M. Karibo and George T. Díaz, editors of the new book Border Policing: A History of Enforcement and Evasion in North America (University of Texas Press, 2020). Karibo is an assistant professor of history at Oklahoma State University. She is the author of Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland (University of North Carolina Press, 2015). Díaz is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of Border Contraband: A History of Smuggling across the Rio Grande (University of Texas Press, 2015).

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

(Holly M. Karibo, left, and George T. Díaz, right)

The book is a series of essays on how efforts to police the U.S.-Canada and U.S.-Mexico border have often failed. We’d tell our bartender that all this talk in the news about securing the border is both misleading and misinformed. Neither the U.S.-Canada or U.S.-Mexican border have ever been effectively secured.  The essays in the book show that border people have always found ways to subvert laws they didn’t like and the government’s best efforts often end up hurting innocent people.   Women used to smuggle liquor up their skirts in order to get around border agents and today it is something else.  The book shows the long history of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico trying numerous ways to police the border, and accomplishing some, but nowhere near all, the governments’ wanted.  

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Call for Writers!

We’ve completed another incredible year at Points. In 2019 we published 102 posts and had almost 100,000 visitors. Now we’re gearing up for our 2020-2021 season and we’re hoping to get YOU involved.

Our goal at Points is to become the foremost site where people who think about drugs go to get contextual information. We discuss relevant history, review drug-related media, strategize how to teach alcohol and drug history in and outside of the classroom, and bring together a unique group of scholars, academics, writers and readers.

This year we’re hoping to do even more, with new series in development, new writers on deck, and new collaborations with other outlets. We’re also hoping to diversify our writers and topics, and continue to bring a transnational approach to drug and alcohol history.

Want to be a part of this party?

If you’re interested in writing about drugs, alcohol and their histories for a dynamic, engaged audience, get in touch. If you want to bring a public-facing approach to your academic interests, get in touch. If you have some research that won’t make it into your scholarship but you want to put it out into the world, get in touch.

Points is for you.

Contact managing editor Emily Dufton at emily (dot) dufton (at) gmail (dot) com for more information on how you can join the Points team as a guest poster, a contributing editor, and more.

Please keep in mind that we are specifically a history-oriented site, so we’re not going to sell anything for you, nor will we promote products, services, or industries.

But if you’re interested in this awesome collaborative project that is bringing some of the most insightful and necessary work on the history of drugs and alcohol in the United States and abroad to the public, let us know. We can’t wait to hear your ideas!

SoundCloud Rap and the Opioid Epidemic: In Defense of a Genre

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from guest writer Michael Brownrigg. Michael recently received his PhD in US history from Northwestern University, where he studied the relationship between emotion, white masculinity, and capitalism to explain the emergence of an antinarcotic consensus in America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

On 3 October 2018 Michael Jones, a relatively obscure rapper within the SoundCloud rap movement known as New Jerzey Devil, was arrested after a joint investigation involving the New York Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency. Authorities alleged that Jones was responsible for the drug overdose death of Diana Haikova, a 29-year old resident of New York, after providing her with heroin and fentanyl. According to DEA Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, “This investigation led us into the underbelly of emo rap and its glorification of opioid use.” 

Of course, the argument that hip hop has glorified the use of illicit substances is hardly new. The genre’s depictions of alcohol and narcotics have long attracted the attention of scholars interested in correlations between media exposure and drug practices. The results of a couple of the more contemporary studies are indicative of the general trend in academic investigations that have almost universally found hip hop particularly deleterious. “Positive portrayals of drug use have increased over time, and drug references increased overall,” Denise Herd, a professor of behavioral sciences, noted when summarizing a 2008 study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, that analyzed popular rap songs between 1979 and 1997, a conclusion that led ABCNEWS to simply declare that “rap music is glamorizing drug use.” Similarly, a 2018 study published in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol determined that “listening to rap music was significantly and positively associated with alcohol use, problematic alcohol use, illicit drug use, and aggressive behaviors.” Although this is just a sampling of the numerous studies that have appeared over the past three decades examining the individual and societal effects resulting from exposure to hip hop, their conclusions reflect an entrenched consensus that the genre possesses an extraordinary capacity to encourage antisocial and destructive behaviors, particularly alcohol and drug addiction. 

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Reflections on “American Rehab”

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Jordan Mylet, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of California, San Diego. She is working on a dissertation titled, “‘Dope Hope’: The Synanon Foundation, Grassroots Recovery Activism, and the Postwar Struggle over Addiction Rehabilitation, 1945-1980.”

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Synanon ad poster plastered in New York City subway stations, 1960s

When my grandfather moved into Synanon in Santa Monica in 1968, the organization had already inspired a Hollywood film, a jazz LP, numerous bomb threats and eviction notices, and kudos from the Kennedy administration. In the decade after his arrival, Synanon founded a multi-million-dollar enterprise, registered as a religion, and made headlines for placing a live rattlesnake in the mailbox of a rival attorney, who nearly died from its bite. By 1978—the year of the Jonestown massacre and the first federal charges brought against Church of Scientology leaders—Synanon had cemented its place in the ranks of America’s numerous bizarre and violent cults. 

Now, when my grandfather sat on a bench in Synanon’s Santa Monica clubhouse lobby, he didn’t know any of this. A few days earlier, his father had found him sitting in a street gutter in the Bronx, nodding off from recent heroin use. He asked his son if he would get on a plane to go to Synanon in California—the best place, everyone in their neighborhood said, for a heroin addict to get clean. So, my grandfather went. Before landing in Los Angeles, he shot up in the airplane bathroom with some supplies that he had smuggled onboard. After six years of heroin addiction, this would be the last time he ever used. He stayed in Synanon, along with his wife—my grandmother—and hundreds of others until its dissolution in 1990. 

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Reminder! Call for Nominations: The 2021 Jellinek Memorial Fund Award for outstanding contribution to the advancement of knowledge on alcohol/alcoholism

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Nominations are solicited for the 2021 Jellinek Memorial Fund Award to a scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the alcohol/alcoholism field. Nominated candidates may come from any country. The category for the Year 2021 award, specified by the Board of Directors of the Jellinek Memorial Fund, will be Social and Cultural Studies. Nominees must have contributed outstanding research in this specific (albeit broad) area, and should be someone who would provide an example and serve as a model for others who might be attracted to work in this field. In addition to a cash award of CDN$5,000, the recipient is presented with a bust of the late E. M. Jellinek with an appropriate inscription.

The Jellinek Memorial Fund Award is traditionally presented at a major international conference, and if necessary, travel and accommodation expenses are provided to permit the awardee to attend the conference for presentation of the award.

To complete the nomination of a candidate, email Prof. Nick Heather at nick.heather@northumbria.ac.uk the following materials:

(1) a detailed letter describing the principal contribution(s) for which the candidate is being nominated, signed by the nominator and any co-nominators; and

(2) a current copy of the candidate’s curriculum vita.

Nominations must be received no later than November 1, 2020.

In order to celebrate the legacy of E.M. Jellinek, we’ve also included this post, originally written by Ron Roizen in 2011, to remember the scholar:

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Whitewashing History: Osaka’s Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma Museum

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from Dr. Miriam Kingsberg Kadia, Associate Professor of History at University of Colorado Boulder and author of the books Moral Nation: Modern Japan and Narcotics in Global History and Into the Field: Human Scientists of Transwar JapanHere she continues her fascinating museum reviews with an examination of a museum in Osaka from her recent trip to Japan.

The Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma Historical Museum (Kusuri no Doshōmachi Shiryōkan) is located in Osaka, a half-hour ramble from the main train station. It lies in the heart of the city’s traditional merchant quarter (still dotted with preserved architecture dating to the late nineteenth century). The museum occupies the second floor of the Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma Company headquarters. It is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. on all weekdays excluding holidays. Advance online reservations are required for entry. Admission is free, the staff is welcoming and helpful, and all films, exhibits, and interactive materials are bilingual. At the time of my visit (around 2 p.m. on a Wednesday in early January), I was the only guest.  

As the museum narrates, Tanabe Mitsubishi Pharma is both a new and an old entity. The company acquired its current form in 2007 as the result of a merger. However, its origins date back to 1604, when Osaka-based merchant Tanabe Gohei received a permit from the Tokugawa shogun (then ruler of Japan) to peddle medicines. In 1678, his grandson opened the family’s first shop (Tanabeya) and began selling medicinal products imported from the Philippines. At the time, Japan was under a strict policy of seclusion, and Tanabe’s foray into international commerce must have required considerable negotiations. (Unfortunately, the process by which he obtained his permit is not elucidated.) Tanabeya truly thrived during the Meiji period (1868-1912), when, in advance of most competitors, it began providing Western medicines in addition to traditional Sinic treatments. Within a short while, the former dominated sales. Another major period of growth took place during World War I, when Germany, then the global leader in developing and manufacturing pharmaceuticals, became unable to export its products. Local concerns including Tanabeya stepped into the breach and greatly expanded their market share.

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Incomparable? George Floyd, Adama Traoré, and the War on Drugs in the Sister Republics

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore.

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In late May massive protests erupted in the U.S. and France in response to police brutality against people of color. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on 25 May, which compounded tensions already heightened by the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery weeks earlier, prompted demonstrations in dozens of cities across the U.S., many of them met by militarized police units deploying flashbangs, tear gas, and rubber bullets in the name of “law and order.” In France, the government’s official denial on 29 May of an appeal for justice by the family of Adama Traoré, murdered by French police in July 2016, sparked a protest at Porte de Clichy in northwest Paris, where 20,000 people chanted the shared last words of Floyd and Traoré in French, “Je n’arrive pas à respirer.” A key organizer of the protests, Assa Traoré (Adama’s sister), declared in a speech, “Today, when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré (…) What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France.”

Though the similarities between the lives and deaths of Traoré and Floyd are many and striking, the French government, through its spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye, officially declared that the men’s deaths and resulting mass demonstrations were “not exactly comparable, neither in terms of history nor in terms of the organization of society.” In France, Ndiaye argued, “there is no instituted state violence.” President Emmanuel Macron also chimed in, arguing on 10 June that universities were to blame for “ethnicizing the social question” for financial gain, radicalizing students, and “breaking the Republic in two.” 

While there have been comparably fewer deaths in police custody in France in recent decades, drug policing in the Hexagon, as in the U.S., is deeply rooted in the nation’s colonial past. And the cases of Floyd and Traoré, and 1000s of others who suffered similar fates, are unfortunately the latest chapters in the still-unfolding histories of colonial policing in both republics. Continue reading