Fighting Drink, Drugs, and Venereal Diseases - Global Anti-Vice Activism, ca. 1870-1940

Fighting Drink, Drugs, and Venereal Diseases - Global Anti-Vice Activism, ca. 1870-1940

Harald Fischer-Tiné, Jana Tschurenev, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich
Monte Verità
Monte Verità
From - Until
01.04.2012 - 04.04.2012
Fahey, David M.

From mid-19th century onwards a growing number of non governmental organizations, intellectuals and policy-makers became concerned with ‘vices’ that appeared to pose a vital threat to national populations and even humanity at large, such as alcoholism, drug trade/abuse, prostitution and deviant sexual behaviors. A basic question is why did the fight against them mobilize people around the globe? Promoters of Eugenics and ‘social hygiene’ – intellectual and political currents that attracted influential supporter in all parts of the world, especially between the 1890s and the 1940s – understood intoxicants and sexually transmitted diseases as ‘racial poisons’ (Mariana Valverde), against which society had to be defended. Projects of social reform and national ‘regeneration’ in metropolitan, colonial, and post-colonial countries thus involved measures to fight, control and contain those poisons. The time period which is the focus of the conference was marked by a large increase in voluntary organizations, which were often well connected beyond national boundaries. Social and political movements such as socialism, feminism, and anti-colonial nationalism became also in many different ways engaged in debating and solving issues of ‘vice.’

The conference thus explores, firstly, how ‘vices’ became reframed
in the context of international bio-political discourses. Apparently,
scientific, medical, and biological concepts became increasingly
important over against moral and religious arguments against illicit
behavior and consumption. Secondly, it seeks to understand why
intoxicating substances and venereal diseases became addressed
as global issues. The trade in intoxicants (such as the export of
gin to West Africa) as well as the traffic in women, or the mobility
of sex workers were not confined to any national or imperial
boundaries, but constantly threatened and transcended them.
Finally, the conference addresses the question of regulation. Anti
vice activism was crucial in setting the agenda for both
governmental interference and international regulation. The
conference seeks to bring together research on organizations and initiatives which campaigned against vices – on the organizational
repertoires they relied on, the languages they used, the contacts
the established, the people they were able to mobilize – with
papers analyzing the interaction of state, non-state, and supra
state actors in the making of regulatory regimes.

We invite contributions which focus on local developments, as well
as papers which analyze trans-local connections from different
regional or cultural perspectives. In regional terms, we are
especially (but not exclusively) interested in case studies on the
Islamic world, Africa, Eastern Europe, and East and South East
Asia. Paper proposals including short abstracts of about 200 words
might be directed at Judith Grosse:
Please submit proposals until September 30, 2011.

Conference April 1-4, 2012, Monte Verità (

Conveners: Harald Fischer-Tiné and Jana Tschurenev, Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology Zurich (

Organizational Assistance: Judith Grosse


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