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CSEAS Lecture Series. Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition Across Southeast Asia

Diana Kim, Assistant Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University
Friday, February 19, 2021
12:00-1:00 PM
Free and open to the public; please register at

During the late nineteenth century, opium was integral to European colonial rule in Southeast Asia. The taxation of opium was a major source of revenue for British and French colonizers, who also derived moral authority from imposing a tax on a peculiar vice of their non-European subjects. Yet between the 1890s and the 1940s, colonial states began to ban opium, upsetting the very foundations of overseas rule—how did this happen? This talk explores the history of this dramatic reversal and colonial legacies that set the stage for the region’s drug problems today.

Diana Kim challenges the conventional wisdom about opium prohibition—that it came about because doctors awoke to the dangers of drug addiction or that it was a response to moral crusaders—uncovering a more complex story deep within the colonial bureaucracy. Drawing on a wealth of archival evidence across Southeast Asia and Europe, she shows how prohibition as made possible through the pivotal contributions of seemingly weak bureaucratic officials. Comparing British and French experiences across today’s Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam, Kim explains how the everyday work of local administrators delegitimized the taxing of opium, which in turn made major anti-opium reforms possible. This talk is based on her book, Empires of Vice (Princeton University Press), which reveals more generally the inner life of colonial bureaucracy, illuminating how European rulers reconfigured their opium-entangled foundations of governance and durably shaped Southeast Asia’s political economy of illicit drugs.

Diana Kim is Assistant Professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a core faculty member of the Asian Studies Program. Her scholarship is animated by concerns with how modern states develop capacity to define people at the edges of respectable society, constructing what it means to be illicit, marginal, and deviant. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Chicago and formerly held a Postdoctoral Prize Fellowship in Economics, History, and Politics at Harvard University and CAORC fellowship with the Center for Khmer Studies. She teaches comparative politics and transnational histories of colonialism and empire in Southeast and East Asia; and her first book, Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition Across Southeast Asia was published in 2020 by Princeton University Press.

The following text will be included on all II events unless you indicate otherwise:If there is anything we can do to make this event accessible to you, please contact us. Please be aware that advance notice is necessary as some accommodations may require more time for the university to arrange. Contact:
Building: Off Campus Location
Location: Virtual
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Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: center for southeast asian studies, Cseas Lecture Series, Discussion, Lecture, Virtual
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Center for Southeast Asian Studies, International Institute, Asian Languages and Cultures

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