New materialism and old materials: Chemical geopolitics, interoperability and opium determination in the 1950s

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Geographers have embraced theories of new materialism and in doing so opened up ways of studying and accounting for material agency. These theories are popular, but there are disagreements as to how materials gain agency. I draw on Barry's notions of informed materials to think about the agency of opium seizures and their role in international drug diplomacy. I explain how the science of opium determination evolved and culminated in a UN sponsored program I call the Opium Determination Program. Here, seizures were tested for their origin and this chemical geopolitics drove drug diplomacy. It took place in labs, fields, etc., as well as the halls of the UN. I offer a contribution to new materialist thought by showing how the materiality of opium was couched in broader assemblages that were contextually specific, rather than expounding the importance of materials. Material agency depended on interoperability in geopolitical assemblages. My conclusions are twofold. First, that scholars interested in the everyday sites of geopolitics should examine the sites of ‘chemical geographies’ and secondly, that the issue of how materials gain agency must be explained.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102064
Number of pages8
JournalPolitical Geography
Early online date26 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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