Pharmacological States of Emergency

deadline for submissions: 
December 12, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Cultural Studies Association Conference 2022
contact email: 


As of March 2021, a year after the United States first entered nation-wide lockdowns in response to the global spread of COVID-19, the National Center for Health Statistics reported a 30% increase in drug overdose deaths across the country. Antidepressant, anti-anxiety, and insomnia prescriptions have also hit record highs. Now public health bodies are embarking on the most ambitious vaccination campaign in US history. Living through the chronic sequelae of these interlocking (and still unfolding) crises is bearable only by recourse to a pharmaceutical fix.

Our aim is to assemble a panel to map the systemic relays between bodies, drugs, and trans/national states of emergency in the pharmacological present. How has COVID-19 underscored, intersected or rerouted the public and private circulation of opioids and pharmaceuticals more broadly? How might the inflated confidence invested in a pharmaceutical fix set the tone for new societies of control? How does the pandemic complicate the War on Drugs, and vice versa? What roles has the drug war played in the extractive development of global markets, the securitization of external and internal borders, the expansion of the prison-industrial complex, and/or the necropolitics of state racism, both within the US and via its imperialist projects abroad? On the other hand, cutting across normative projections of oblivion and dependency, how may drugs allow queer/trans modes of connectivity to take form from and build new worlds amidst the experiential debris of infrastructural breakdown, entrapment, and abandonment? 

In what ways, then, might attending to pharmacologies reframe the temporality of our crisis moment – its suppressed prehistories and amplified present, its endlessness, its deferred futures and chronic aftermaths? Some further lines of inquiry to take up might include:

-What new routes must drugs take as they traverse the geopolitical and micropolitical terrains disclosed by the disruption of multinational supply chains, the constriction of public space, and/or the ongoing renovation of biomedical apartheids?

- How might we think of the multiplying public health crises and their lethal fallout as a continuation, intensification, or extension of the War on Drugs, which has disproportionately entrapped poor, Black, and Brown communities in a debilitating system of surveillance, police violence, incarceration, deportation and/or political disenfranchisement? 

-Which public health frameworks are most put under duress by the intersecting coronavirus and overdose crises? How might cultural analysis draw on scientific work to trace the biochemical effects of this convergence? What might biomedical sciences glean from or contribute to Jacques Derrida’s deconstructive reading of the pharmakon, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s pharmacoanalysis, Paul Preciado’s revisionist history of pharmacopower, or Kaushik Sunder Rajan’s account of the modern pharmocracy?

-To what extent do the normative aims of the antiviral pharmakon mesh with neoliberal regimes of ir/responsibilization or exemplify the unequal distribution of state care? How might differential access to biochemical technologies and imaginaries numb, dissipate, rewire, alleviate, concentrate, or intensify the crisis present for some but not others?

-Where can drug scenes gather – intimately, virtually, illegally – within the contracted range of a socially distanced lifeworld? What do we make of the shared use of drugs (e.g. opioids, ecstasy, meth, Viagra, poppers, GHB, PrEP, PEP) under conditions of pandemic estrangement from the commons? Are the erotics of chemical excitation still compatible with the political economies of sexual desire, arousal, pleasure, subjectivity, and imaging that Preciado attributes to “the pharmacopornographic era”? How may ecologies of chemical alteration allow queer/trans modes of connectivity to take form from and build new worlds amidst the experiential debris of infrastructural breakdown, entrapment, and abandonment?

Please send your 300-500 word abstract to Sylvie Boulette ( by December 12th, 2021. We’ll also consider proposals for alternative formats (poetry, multimedia, performance, etc.) as long as they fit within the 15-20 minute time set aside for each presenter.