"Molecular Colonialism: The Case of Cocaine" - Dusan Bjelic

Event Date

SS&H 1246

"Molecular Colonialism: the Case of Cocaine"

Professor Dušan Bjelić 

Criminology and Science Studies, University of Southern Maine

Tuesday May 29th, 12:10-2:00pm 
STS/CSIS Conference Room (SSH 1246)


As usual, we will pre-circulate a text which will be briefly introduced at the start of the session. The introduction will be followed by an hour or so of lively discussion about the text, so please come having read the paper in advance. Food and refreshments will be provided!

If you are interested in attending, please RSVP using the google form. We will send a copy of the text a week before the event to those who register.

Feel free to circulate. You will find a flyer for the event below!
Abstract: Colonialism has been studied primarily as historical phenomenon pertaining to the planetary surface, or to what Carl Schmitt termed, the Nomos of the earth. Yet little attention has been paid to the ferocious colonization of psycho-somatic space, or to the molecular. When Karl Marx identified science and technology as‘means of production,’ he intended to emphasize their conquistador-like character vis-à-vis human and natural actuality directed by the “cunning of reason of history.”  The “cunning of reason of history” was a form of political trickery of the Master race, which migrated via the scientific revolution of recent centuries from ancient battlefields to scientific laboratories where the political character of the former also migrated into molecular space of the modified colonial plants. In this regard, scientific technology’s conquest of molecular, psycho-somatic space may be regarded as the extension of Nomos colonialism’s planetary surface into the molecular and nervous interiors. Colonial conquest was imposed upon populations by superior might, but also by the subtle, scientific management and manipulation of both natural and industrially produced materials now functioning as molecular schemes for capturing productive desire. Cocaine, one such industrial material, proves to be a significant marker, and colonial political history can be divided into three symbiotic orders of abstract synthesis of permanent debt, the social-political, the molecular-political and psycho-political. The first was achieved by Spain's conquest of Peru, the second by German organic chemistry’s conversion of Cocoa leaf into cocaine, and the third by psychoanalytic conquest of desire.

Dušan I. Bjelić received both his B.A. (1976) and M.A. (1981) in Sociology from the University of Belgrade.  He earned his PhD in Sociology from Boston University in 1989, joining the University of Southern Maine faculty in 1990. His areas of interest are ethnomethodology of science, Balkan Studies, and critical studies of psychoanalysis and psychiatry. His books include, Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation, co-edited with Obrad Savić (The MIT Press 2002); Galileo's Pendulum: Science, Sexuality and the Body-Instrument Link (SUNY Press 2003); Normalizing the Balkans: Geopolitics of Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis  (Ashgate in 2011; Routledge in 2016); Intoxication, Modernity, and Colonialism: Freud's Industrial Unconscious, Benjamin's Hashish Mimesis (Palgrave in 2017).