The drug dispositif: ambivalent materiality and the addiction of the global drug prohibition regime

Eva Herschinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


International relations and critical security studies are increasingly including the role of materiality in the study of security practices, inquiring into how objects act as both threat and /or endangered referent. However, objects of ‘dual-use’ – that is, objects that are not only threatening or in need of protection but also beneficial or pleasurable to the human collective – figure less prominently. Drugs are such an ambivalent matter: beneficial in the context of medicine and at the same time threatening in the context of crime. Mobilizing the concept of the dispositif, this article questions how drugs and addiction materialize in the practices of the global drug prohibition regime. I argue that the ambivalence of the material object ‘drug’ is the condition of possibility of the regime. The regime as an epitome of the ‘drug dispositif’ illustrates how ambivalent objects give rise to expanding security practices and specific power relations, highlighting how (critical) security analyses could profit from greater awareness of ambivalent matters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-201
Number of pages19
JournalSecurity Dialogue
Issue number2
Early online date8 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

While writing this article, I have benefited enormously from many illuminating conversations with Claudia Aradau, Martin Coward, Owen Thomas and Nadine Voelkner, members of the ‘Discourse and Materialities Method-Cluster’ of the International Collaboratory on Critical Methods in Security Studies (ICCM), and from discussions with all other ICCM members at the different workshops of the Collaboratory. Information on the ICCM can be found at I would also like to thank Caroline Holmqvist and the attendees of the panel ‘Material Insecurities II: Securing Space and Place’ at the Millennium Annual Conference 2012 for their comments, the anonymous reviewers of Security Dialogue for their helpful
comments, and Frank Sauer for his generous intellectual engagement and instructive remarks on earlier versions of this article.

Parts of this research have been generously supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.


  • critical security studies
  • dispositif
  • drugs
  • international relations
  • materiality
  • prohibition regime


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