Security and the drug control dispositif
: Analysing the construction of drugs as an existential threat to humankind and the nation state

  • Emily Crick

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


It has commonly been argued that drugs have been securitized, however relatively little in-depth analysis has been carried out on this subject.This thesis addresses this gap in the literature by using a combination of Foucault’s concept of the dispositif and a sociological interpretation of securitization theory to examine how drugs have become constructed as existentially threatening to humankind and the state by the United Nations (UN) and the United States of America (US). The two securitizations analysed here -the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (Single Convention) and US President Reagan’s 1986 National Security Decision Directive 221 (NSDD-221) -took place within the wider historical context of a control-oriented dispositif, it is argued,but also re-shaped the international drug control system and the drug control dispositif in profound ways.The thesis concludes that the drug control dispositif has continued to evolve through time and across space, and that the securitization of drugs by the US and UN has limited the range of options available within international and domestic drug policies, often exacerbating the harms to humans and the state –the very referent objects that these securitizations aim to protect.Discourse analysis of archival documents from the British National Archives, the US National Archives and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum,and process-tracing of media sources are used to examine the ways in which drugs became securitized and how these securitizations affected the drug control dispositif. In order to understand the context in which the securitization(s) of drugs occurred, this thesis firstly identifies the various forms of control that were used during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It then analyses how the Single Convention and NSDD-221 established drugs as being threatening to humankind and the state through securitizing speech acts and non-discursive practices and how these securitizations re-oriented the drug control dispositif towards a prohibitionist paradigm.Finally, this thesis explores how various discourses and practices are challenging the ‘drugs as a threat’ discourse but still sit firmly within the drug control dispositif.
Date of Award25 Sep 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorColumba L Peoples (Supervisor) & Benoit Pelopidas (Supervisor)


  • drug policy
  • securitization
  • drug control

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