Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Dr. Daniel Vaillancourt


What is addiction? Since its transformation as a word in the late 19th century, not only has it taken on the form of a scientific concept, but it also contains a complex social-historical component that tells a story of how and why addiction is now conceived of as a harmful and deviant behaviour. The objective of this text is to highlight how addiction fundamentally eclipses scientific discourses and instead functions as a social concept in the interests of colonization – comprised of forces of State and capitalism. Based on a critical reading of Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane, we will find that the colonizing forces of State and capitalism express the post-modern form of the sacred, wherein rituals that sustain the sacred world are deemed good and promoted, whereas those rituals which threaten the State or capitalist mode of being are classified as bad, or profane. Thus, we will contrast the figure of the sports fanatic through his/her participation on online forums as they exhibit institutional characteristics of addiction, to the criminalized and demonized subjects and objects of addiction, with the intent of portraying two forms of institutional addiction with contrasting relations to colonial ideals. Moreover, in three films by Satyajit Ray (The Music Room, The Chess Players, and Charulata), we will not only see how social processes delineate the primary nature of the drug/user relationship which characterizes addiction, but also how forces of colonization repurpose rituals to serve colonial ideals. By tracing the transformation of the word addiction to authoritative relations with drunkenness, it will become evident how the impositions of morality and higher social forces have made addiction a social tool and a concept irreconcilable with scientific theories. Finally, in contrasting texts by Gabor Maté, Bruce Alexander and Stanton Peele, with texts by Harry Levine, Alfred Lindesmith and Thomas Szasz, we will see distinguishing types of discourses which attempt to address the problem ‘what is addiction?’

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