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Reviewed by:
  • Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion
  • Joel Tannenbaum
Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion. Edited by William R. Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003. 253 pp. $50.00 (cloth).

The possible benefit of compiling an anthology of anthropological writings concerned with "drugs" and colonial labor markets is that drugs, whether stimulant, opiate, or psychoactive, invoke an entire language of pain, desire, the forbidden, the marginal, and the fantastic. As eighteenth- and nineteenth-century colonial labor markets invoke images of social relationships at their most polarized and repressive, [End Page 493] "drugs" as an analytic category borrows notions from classical political economy such as "commodity" and "consumption" and imbues them with an air of the verboten that can scarcely be applied to worsted wool or petroleum distillates. Taken together, as they are in Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion, these two concepts ought to do nothing less than reach up from the page and grab the reader by the collar, offering him nothing less than an anthropology of the human soul.

The possible disadvantage of such an anthology is the slipperiness of the categories upon which it must rely. Is it possible to contain alcohol and tobacco within a stable category? Both are addictive, but so is cane sugar, the example par excellence of Sidney Mintz's "drug-foods."1 The editors are able to forge an agreement based on the work of the contributors that "drugs are not like other products," because, in other words, drugs "are pharmacologically active," and they "interfere with neurotransmitters" (p. 5). Further, the editors and the majority of the contributors are heavily reliant upon the definition of the commodity posed by the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai.2 This definition, in its determination to identify value with exchange rather than production, was forced to rely upon the work of deservedly obscure interwar German sociologists, such as Georg Simmel, as antidotes to more conventionally materialist definitions of value. The problem, as James Ferguson so correctly pointed out, was not so much that Appadurai chose to associate himself with problematic scholars of a different era as it was that, in order to find the framework for a fundamentally monetary (as opposed to labor-based) theory of value, he literally had nowhere else to go.3

The closest thing to a Mintz-like argument in this volume comes from E. N. Anderson, who attempts to sketch the social and ceremonial roles of caffeine in various forms in global labor markets, discussing Chinese tea houses, Japanese tea ceremonies, and American and European coffee houses. Anderson admirably avoids unhelpful distinctions between West and non-West, but when he turns to American coffee consumption, his ideas about American culture seem oddly wedded to a Fordist production regime that scarcely exists anymore: [End Page 494] working class "coffee shops" peopled by industrial laborers versus elite urban "coffee houses" peopled by a wealthy, bohemian intelligentsia.

The other, more standard ethnographic essays in this volume are for the most part divided into those dealing with tobacco and those dealing with alcohol. Maggie Brady and Jeremy Long show how tobacco was initially used as a largely symbolic means of establishing cordial relationships between British settlers and Australian aborigines, then later became effectively a cash commodity, capable of drawing otherwise reticent indigenous Australians into wage labor. In examining the introduction of pipe tobacco into Papua New Guinea in the late nineteenth century, Terence E. Hays argues that the preexisting forms of authority that would have otherwise mediated the use of tobacco among Papua New Guineans were already weakened when this new, addictive tobacco appeared on the scene. Thus indigenous opposition to this particular type of colonial expansion was effectively neutralized.

Among the contributors concerned with alcohol, Peter C. Mancall provides what is easily the volume's most interesting work. He demonstrates the way in which would-be French and British fur traders encountered an entirely different economic system when dealing with Algonquin and Iroquois trappers, who were indifferent to fluctuations in European commercial demand for furs. In order to undermine the economic and cultural calculus that indigenous North Americans used to determine the amount of animals they would hunt, track, and kill during a given...


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