Re-conceptualizing Power, Race, and Space in the War on Drugs

Authors: Jurgen Von Mahs*, New School University
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: urban geography, drugs, social control, race, policy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Few academics argue that the “War on Drugs” is working and most studies have demonstrated that this “war” is racially motivated serving to control and disenfranchise ethnic minorities through the criminal justice system and the prison industrial complex. This paper adds to this discourse by further problematizing the interrelations among power, race, and space by expanding and re-conceptualizing our understanding in three important ways: (1) Addressing the role powerful economic entities such as the formal drug economy (pharma, alcohol, and tobacco), the informal drug economy, the prison industrial complex, and the treatment-industrial complex play and how each of them capitalizes on the existence and proliferation of a disease and its consequences; (2) Re-conceptualizing the role of the state in incentivizing the four economic players, proving a regulatory framework, and generating revenue at the expense of disenfranchised, urban minorities and people afflicted with the disease of addiction more generally. (3) Re-envisioning the role of space by showcasing how the interplay of such economic forces is facilitated by the movement of people, mainly ethnic minorities, from inner cities to rural prisons, and of money from inner cities and rural areas to mainly white suburbs. In so doing, the state ultimately becomes complicit in abetting institutional racism all the while cleverly shielding itself from any accusation of malign complicity and outright racism by justifying the war on drugs as a public benefit.

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