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Lecture | Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS)

Book presentation: Opium’s Long Shadow: From Asian Revolt to Global Drug Control

  • Steffen Rimner
Thursday 23 May 2019
Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS) year 2018 - 2019
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
2.60 (conference room)

At the crossroads of international relations and transnational mobilization, the League of Nations culminated almost eight decades of political turmoil over opium trafficking. In the nineteenth century, the opium trade had grown to the largest state-backed drug trade in the age of empire. Opponents of opium had long struggled to rein in the profitable drug. Opium’s Long Shadow shows how diverse local protests crossed imperial, national, and colonial boundaries to gain traction globally and harness public opinion as a moral deterrent in international politics after World War I.

The book traces the far-flung itineraries and trenchant arguments of reformers—significantly, feminists and journalists—who viewed opium addiction as a root cause of poverty, famine, “white slavery,” and moral degradation. These activists targeted the international reputation of drug-trading governments, first and foremost Great Britain, British India, and Japan, becoming pioneers of the global political tactic we today call naming and shaming. But rather than taking sole responsibility for their own behavior, states in turn appropriated anti-drug criticism to shame fellow sovereigns around the globe. Consequently, participation in drug control became a prerequisite for membership in the twentieth-century international community. Rimner relates how an aggressive embrace of anti-drug politics earned China and other Asian states new influence on the world stage.

The link between drug control and international legitimacy has endured. Amid fierce contemporary debate over the wisdom of narcotics policies, the 100-year-old moral consensus Rimner describes remains a backbone of the international order.

For further information: Opium’s Long Shadow: From Asian Revolt to Global Drug Control. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2018.

CHIRRS, seminar series

The aim of the Contemporary History and International Relations Research Seminar (CHIRRS) is to foster an inclusive interdisciplinary dialogue about issues in the fields of Contemporary History and International Relations. It will question the framing and paradigms of these fields over time, broadly investigating international society.

The seminar will address questions such as how decolonisation provides a context for current debates on migration; how changing conceptions of human security can inform debates about environmental and social justice questions across the globe; how global inequality influences conceptions of political economy and develop critical approaches to the debate about the normative issues in security dilemmas.

Under CHIRRS we have 3 types of event: the regular Research Seminars, a more ad hoc Current Events in Perspective series and workshops on themes that are of interest to the research community. You can contact chirrs@hum.leidenuniv.nl if you'd like to be added to the CHIRRS mailing list.  For future events, see here.

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