Call For Papers
International Conference: The Subject of Addiction – Culture and Clinic
The University of Nottingham, September 11-12 2014
It is almost a commonplace to note the connections between drug-use and creative practices, from Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, through Beat generation writers like William Burroughs, and on to filmic and novelistic representations of the recreational drug culture of the 1990s, as iconically exemplified in Irving Welsh’s (and Danny Boyle’s) Trainspotting.
However, emergent fields such as the Health Humanities now demonstrate that beyond narrow chemical definitions, addiction has a history and a cultural specificity that has influenced its construction within medical and indeed political discourse. Nor can this history be disentangled from the ‘highs and lows’ of capitalism and its deployment of stimulants, from coffee to get the workforce going in the morning to ‘stimulus packages’ conceived as antidotes to finance capital’s inherent addiction to debt. For related reasons, the rise of the so-called ‘Prozac Nation’ now needs to be supplemented with the emergence of a ‘Smart Drug Nation’ in which nootropic ‘enhancers’ promise to makes us cognitively leaner, fitter, faster neoliberal subjects (a theme explored in Neil Burger’s 2011 film, Limitless). Perhaps we should even add to this list the explosion of a ‘Smart Phone Nation’: communications technologies increasingly ‘jack us in’ to circuits of affective exchange and mediated sociability, in the absence of which we feel our ‘life support’ has been switched off.
These cultural, economic and technological developments have their corollaries in the field of medical discourse and clinical practice. Is it not significant, for example, that precisely as ‘cosmetic pharmacology’ becomes almost mundane in certain circles, the science of pathological drug addiction increasingly focuses on the supposedly objective effects of particular chemicals, very much at the expense of subjective questions? The ‘why’ of addiction is frequently answered not by the addict, but by evolutionary psychologists and geneticists. This is working in tandem with a medicalization of addiction on a largely physiological or neurological model: witness the widespread assertion, which forms an important part of the group identity constructed at AA meetings, that ‘Alcoholism is a disease’. What speaking position does such an assertion give to the alcoholic subject? And what are the consequences for forms of treatment, such as psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy, which attempt to open up a space for precisely subjective questions?
This conference aims to address these questions by bringing philosophers, critical, cultural and media theorists as well as clinical practitioners from a variety of therapeutic traditions together, in an interdisciplinary exploration of the contemporary ‘subject of addiction’.
The term ‘subject’ here is deliberately bivalent. It refers both to discourse about addiction (psychological, pharmacological, neuroscientific, legal, moral and political as well as literary and artistic), and to the individual that depends on substances or behaviours – or increasingly on things – to an extent experienced as problematic. This deliberately open definition can today be applied well beyond the stereotypical ‘junkie’ hooked on heroin or crack-cocaine, to also engage with more culturally acceptable, yet still suffering, exemplars of contemporary addiction: the incessant Facebook ‘user’, the compulsive hoarder, the all-night gamer, the online pornography addict, and indeed those complementary mainstays of late capital, the ‘workaholic’ and the ‘shopaholic’. As this spectrum suggests, there is a fiercely contested but often veiled politics behind the ‘subject of addiction’. If Marx long ago decried religion as the ‘opiate of the masses’, perhaps today a new form of commodified addiction has become the pacifying paradigm of consumption? Does stimulation rather than repression constitute a new mode of social control?
Examining the ‘subject of addiction’ then, this conference will highlight the cultural contexts in which clinical discourses and practices around addiction both take place and are displaced, as well as the philosophical and theoretical frameworks best able to articulate the dialectic between addiction, culture, and clinic. The conference is feeding in to a special issue of the journal Subjectivity so participants may have a publishing outlet for their papers.
The organizers will be pleased to receive any contributions addressing contemporary addiction, but proposals are particularly welcomed in the following broad areas:
- Consumerism and/as addiction
- Medical and Health Humanities approaches to addiction
- The Western/Non-Western cultural history of addiction
- The medicalization of non-substance addictions (e.g., gambling, sex, gaming)
- Drug use and counter-cultures/subcultures
- The geography and geopolitics of addiction and of the ‘War on Drugs’
- Drug classification and the new ‘legal highs’
- New technologies and mediated addiction
- Contemporary art and representations of addiction
- Addiction on screen and/or on stage
- Psychoanalysis and/of addiction
- Neuroscience and addiction
- User’s voices and agency
Proposals of no more than 500 words should be sent by 1st of December 2013 to Dr Colin Wright.