Drugs, intoxication and drug policy: beyond the headlines

Liviu Alexandrescu is a lecturer in Criminology at Oxford Brookes. Liviu’s research interests sit at the crossroads of sociology, criminology and media/culture studies, with a strong focus on critical drug studies and social theory.

In this Book Hook post, Liviu recommends five books on drugs and drug policy. All of Liviu’s choices are available in our Headington campus library. What do you think of his recommendations? Let us know in the comments.

A history of drugs : drugs and freedom in the liberal age by Toby Seddon

Probably the most ‘scholarly’ title in this list but an essential study that puts drug policy in a larger historical perspective, arguing that addiction (along with the oftentimes punitive social controls imposed upon it) is best understood through the critical lens of (spoiled) choice and freedom, the main political attributes of the human subject throughout the liberal age that accompanies the consolidation and crises of modern capitalism.

Drugs– without the hot air : minimising the harms of legal and illegal drugs by David Nutt

Professor David Nutt, who was sacked from his position as the UK government’s chief drug adviser after stating that MDMA (ecstasy) is less dangerous than horse riding, puts together a cool-headed overview of contemporary drug science and politics, exploring the chemical profiles and practices of use for older and newer categories of substances taken for their psychoactive effects, as well as tackling some of the misperceptions surrounding the policy efforts meant to regulate them.

Why we take drugs : seeking excess and communion in the modern world by Tom Yardley

Tom Yardley takes on one of the most straightforward questions we can ask about intoxication by capturing insights from anthropology, phenomenology, sociology and cultural theory. He argues that despite the toxic connotations that frame substance use in the collective imagination of Western societies, drugs have always provided means of transgression and community-seeking, essential drives within the human condition, from the rituals of premodern tribes to the more rationalised life-flows of our times.

Chasing the scream : the search for the truth about addiction by Johann Hari

This book tells the story of the now century-old prohibition model that has come to define global drug policy under US influence through highly enjoyable narrative and at times rather sensitive prose – Hari’s writing journey is also about making sense of his own experiences with addiction. From the ‘father of prohibition’ Harry J. Anslinger (the chief of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics established in 1930) to jazz artists, New York gangsters, street hustlers or hitmen for Mexican cartels, the author follows the destinies of some of those caught on all sides of the ‘war on drugs’.

Narconomics : how to run a drug cartel by Tom Wainwright

A book with a title that will tend to attract some attention from your fellow commuters, as I could notice myself when reading it on the train on a few occasions. By drawing on his extensive field experience reporting on the drugs trade as a South and Central Americas correspondent for The Economist, Tom Wainwright looks at the economics of trafficking from an organisational management perspective, imagining drug cartels as corporations with marketing, supply chain, public relations and human resource needs like any successful profit-making company. The only way to confront large scale organised crime, he claims, is by first understanding their business model. 

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