This post builds on the research article “The Elegiac Addict: History, Chronicity, and the Melancholic Subject,” which was published in the November 2008 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.
Cultural Anthropology has published many essays on public health and biomedicine. See, for example, Deepa Reddy’s "Good Gifts for the Common Good: Blood and Bioethics in the Market of Genetic Research" (2007); Stacy Leigh Pigg’s "Languages of Sex and AIDS in Nepal: Notes on the Social Production of Commensurability" (2001); and Mei Zhan’s "Does it Take a Miracle? Negotiating Knowledges, Identities and Communities of Traditional Chinese Medicine" (2001).
Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of essays that critically analyze uneven distributions of risk and privilege in the United States. See, for example, George Lipsitz’s "Learning from New Orleans: The Social Warrant of Hostile Privatism and Competitive Consumer Citizenship" (2006); Henry Jenkins’s "'People from that Part of the World': The Politics of Dislocation" (2006); and Joseph Masco’s "Mutant Ecologies: Radioactive Life in Post–Cold War New Mexico" (2004).
Questions for Classroom Discussion
1. Garcia describes multiple dimensions of chronicity that converge in the Española Valley. What are the different discourses that structure time in the context of heroin use in New Mexico, and how do they come to be expressed through the lives of individuals like Alma?
2. Consider the genre of the single-person ethnography: what do you find most valuable or most surprising about the way this article recounts the life story of a single person? What does Garcia’s article allow us to see that a more typical ethnographic account might not, and what might be obscured through her focus on Alma as a central figure?
3. What does Garcia mean by "ideological frameworks for drug use"? What examples does she give of how those ideological frameworks become instituted in practice?
4. Several institutions appear in Garcia’s piece – hospitals, drug courts, the treatment facility Hoy Recovery, an evangelical church, and even Los Alamos National Laboratories. What role do institutions play in shaping the circumstances of Alma’s life?
5. What is psychological anthropology? In what ways do you think such an approach shapes Garcia’s analysis?
In the November, 2008 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Angela Garcia examines heroin addiction and overdose in northern New Mexico's Española Valley, currently home to the highest rate of heroin-induced death in the U.S. Garcia explores how a Hispano ethos of endless suffering dangerously reworks logic of "chronicity" – the prevailing model of drug addiction and addictive experience. Through the narrative of Alma, a Hispana heroin addict who died following repeated overdoses, Garcia describes the structuration of Alma's suffering and death within the discourse of chronicity.
Garcia closely followed Alma for two years as she moved within and between the clinic, drug courts, "picaderos" [shooting galleries], home and church, attempting to reconcile the inherent contradictions of heroin addiction. Through this work, Garcia demonstrates how the interplay of local and biomedical discourses compelled the "endlessness" Alma felt herself prisoner of, caught between the recurring pains of Hispano life in Española Valley and the preparation for "recovery" from a condition defined by the chronicity model as unending. Of primary concern for Garcia is the "experiences of loss and memories of it, how intersecting forms of history come to bear on the present, and how heroin use-and overdose in particular-exposes the painful recognition that the future has been swallowed up by the past."
Drawing upon past anthropological literature on the effect of medical and technical forms of knowledge on subjectivity, Garcia develops a critical phenomenology of heroin addiction, evoking what she terms the "elegiac" nature of heroin addiction in the Hispano millieu.