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A prominent theme in the study of drugs and drug foods as a commodity or item of consumption is the privileging of the symbolic or social aspects at the expense of their more material characteristics. John and Jean Comaroff have noted an emphasis on humans' ability to make a fetish of things in recent anthropological accounts of the nature of objects in the social world (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:210-211). Timothy Burke (1996:6-7) has recently criticized Douglas and Isherwood (and implicitly Strathern) for suggesting that goods should be seen as possessing no inherent characteristics: instead they are imbued with characteristics only through being part of culture. Burke argues instead that there are particular sorts of goods. Not all goods are 'pure free-floating signifiers; they are not [therefore] blank slates upon which history and power can write freely. They have concrete material qualities which limit and prescribe their use and their nature' (Burke 1996:8). In the context of this discussion a key point emerges from these studies: the clear demonstration that, however productive it may be to view desire and demand as having social components, it is vital to remain aware that goods are not infinitely labile and that particular commodities and classes of commodities have characteristics which make them more or less desirable. The presumption that desire and demand arise independently of the characteristics of the goods or of the human bodies in which those desires are literally embodied is as much an oversimplification as is the assumption goods are simply and predominantly what they physically appear to be. In the case of drug foods, it is simply wrong to argue, following Baudrillard, that what is now produced are desires which are signs, not material objects. Desire can only operate on objects by turning them into signs. In effect, the commodity is less a real thing than it is a sign of itself, because it is the sign we desire (Frank 1991: 64). This view Bradburd and Jankowiak (2003:1-41) argued is simply wrong. Research on addiction has found the exact opposite: addicts and dependents crave the drug for itself. Further, drugs and drug foods can be physically or psychologically addictive. Habitual users, therefore, often developed psychological or physical dependency on the drug foods--an observation that European traders or merchants made in their continued efforts to enlist native populations' labor around the globe (Jankowiak and Bradburd 1996). (1)

November 1
University of Sydney
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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