Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Earth & Environmental Sciences


Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Committee Members

David Harvey

Kandice Chuh

Subject Categories

Human Geography


abolition, imperialism, political economy of chronic pain, accumulation of capital, racial capitalism, neoliberal economic restructuring, accumulation by dispossession, extractivism, Opioid Epidemic, consciousness


This dissertation presents an evidence-based, geographically informed theory of so-called addiction in the capitalist mode of production. Taking the present-day opioid epidemic as its point of departure, it argues that ‘addiction,’ rather than an anomalous, individuated pathology, is an organizing principle of capitalist social formations. Neither moral nor medical, ‘addiction’ is a structural and pervasive expression of life lived under the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism, society structured in pursuit of profit, produces human subjects with deleterious dependencies on addictive commodity substances by design and in mass. The methodology of the project is consciousness expansion through pattern recognition, stitching together histories of the present that weave a map out from the morass. The intention is to spark innovations in understanding by linking theory, evidence and history in order to produce new knowledge for creative visioning and action toward the world we wish to enact into being. The aim is to add necessary and intentionally occluded context to an understanding of the present moment.

The argument unfolds across four chapters. Chapter One, Capital is a Fiend, explores the spatial dynamics of capitalist accumulation and some theoretical and historical considerations regarding the system’s staying power despite all evidence of its eminent threat to Life on Earth. Chapter Two, Finding a Fix, makes the case for seeing the opioid epidemic as a direct result of neoliberal economic restructuring. Chapter Three, Addiction as an Accumulation Strategy, argues that rather than solutions oriented toward meaningful change capital’s logic via human actors in service to its staying power deploy shapeshifting geographical leaps, discursive shifts, and other recognizable tactics, which leave the systemic circuitry of ongoing harm in place. Chapter Four, What of ‘the Addict?,’ considers the taken-for-granted, produced category of ‘the addict.’ The chapter explores the endemic fact of ritualized comfort-seeking through commodity consumption in capital’s empire. It highlights the ideological and infrastructural (state building) tactics used to contain, cover up, rationalize, and displace the onus of mass dislocation and dependency. The work concludes by arguing that seeing and understanding the present-day opioid epidemic in sufficient depth and dimension requires overturning stones that capitalist consciousness requires stay in place for securing passive consent to the ongoingness of the disordered regime. Regaining multidimensional sight is a precursor to imagining into being a liveable, peaceable future together on Earth.

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