Addictive Stimulants in an Age of Global Capitalism: History and Biotechnology of the “Always On” Self in East Asia

History of Science/Science and Technology Studies/East Asia and Comparative Global (US) History

This interdisciplinary and comparative project intends to examine the contemporary history of biomedical and pharmacological technologies for manipulating and improving human beings in an age of global capitalism. This project in particular will examine how a broad array of addictive stimulants, such as nicotine, psychedelic drugs, and other caffeinated products, have been actively developed, used, and often abused so that human beings would remake themselves more amenable to both the demands of capitalistic work discipline and constant consumption. At a broader level, my research is an attempt to ask how capitalism has not just remade our material world, but also remade our cultural, social, and even biological identity.

I seek a research partner who would be able to investigate and think through the following questions using a set of scientific, cultural, and historical documents: What happens in our lives when human beings have been constantly asked to augment, enhance, and even remake themselves in an age of global capitalism? How have recent developments in neurosciences and biotechnologies broadened the scope of human manipulation, which includes addictive stimulants, mental enhancements, and sleep control? When happens in our identity when we cannot address our inability, inflexibility, and unproductivity? Interested students should make a case for the relevance of their expertise, interest, and background to the above questions.

Since the project is interdisciplinary and comparative, there are many kinds of relevant skills and background: everything from neurosciences and medicine to history of science to US cultural history to East Asian studies. The research partner will prepare background memos on particular topics, as well as help with sourcing and quotations. This project is in its very early stages, so students will have a chance to provide insightful contributions via archival research, literature review, and editing. The student will improve their capacity to conduct independent research, and they will increase their familiarity with a wide range of interdisciplinary scholarship on the cultural and social implications of biomedical and pharmaceutical technologies at the global level.