A Vicious Turn in Global History: Fighting Drinks, Drugs, and Immorality,” c. 1850–1950

AHA Session 5
Alcohol and Drugs History Society 2
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Plaza Ballroom A (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Antoinette Burton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
David T. Courtwright, University of North Florida

Session Abstract

At the turn of the twentieth century, state- and non-state activists increasingly engaged in the regulation of alcohol and drug consumption, prostitution, sexual-intimate relations, and human trafficking. All over the world anti-vice activism emerged, building networks across imperial and national borders as well as racial, class and gender boundaries. State administrators pushed for stronger regulation of public health to protect national and imperial populations. Anti-imperial activists in the colonies and the metropoles envisioned solidarity and friendship in the fight against vicious temptations and imperial drug trade. Despite different aims and means, anti-vice became a common ground for religiously inspired moral reformers, advocates of secular science as well as socialist feminists, who all reevaluated the importance of the family and the healthy, reproductive body that was supposedly threatened by alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, prostitution, venereal disease and pornography. Former sinful practices became to be approached as vices that would endanger not personal salvation, but morality, public health and ultimately humanity at large.

The panel examines the global arena of anti-vice activism, in which anti-vice reformers and governmental administrators engaged and formed what in contemporary terms could be called a global civil society. In different cases from colonial India to progressive era America and postwar East Asia, the papers in this panel show how actors and institutions worked in a variety of scalar locations—the city, the state, the empire, and international governance—and how they contributed to establish important nodes and networks of local, national, transnational and international activism against the alleged menace of vice in a global community. They seek to comprehend the organizational repertoires anti-vice activism relied on, identify the social actors it was able to mobilize, examine the languages it used, and reconstruct the linkages and genealogies it established.

Global anti-vice activism is a broad conceptual framework that draws together similar campaigns of hygienic modernity, while retaining a certain degree of plasticity or flexibility to encompass a wide variety of political and religious agendas. However, all papers share the centrality of regulating the habits of the body to imperial and national projects as an entry point of historical inquiry. Exploring the ramifications of the body and the intimate expose the colonial imaginaries of danger as do the myriad ways that bodies formed sites of control in Western and colonial settings alike. Furthermore, focusing on the regulation of the body sheds light on the ways that domains of the intimate were central sites where intersecting hierarchies of race, gender, sexuality, class, and the colonized got played out in terms of disciplining bodies, regulating consumption of noxious substances, and policing the habits of the heart, mind, and appetite. Analyzing the body in its interaction of state, non-state, and supra-state actors in the making of regulatory regimes, all papers contribute to a better understanding of a phenomenon that is still crucial to this very day.

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