Nickolas Surawy Stepney

Thesis title:

Morphine in India: An Ethnographic Study


Access to opioid medication such as morphine is a global concern. These are medications known to be effective in easing severe pain, but they are also known to be addictive. The high-level of opiate addiction in the USA is perhaps the most visible example of this issue. Elsewhere however, these medications can be extremely difficult to acquire, even in cases of dire need. India is the only licit exporter of opium, yet within the country itself only a tiny fraction of the population has access to morphine to treat severe pain. Focussing on the state of Himachal Pradesh, this project will interrogate the multiple factors underlying the uneven availability of this drug, and analyse how this uncertainty shapes the lives of those living with and without it.In order to do this, a multi-sited ethnographic approach will be used. In taking morphine as an ethnographic object, this study will engage with three key research questions: I) What is the contemporary ‘biography’ of morphine in this location – how does it gain or lose status, how is it imagined, regulated and consumed? II) How does the history of opium production in this state influence this contemporary formulation? III) How do individuals interact with and medicate pain when adequate medication is frequently unavailable, and how does this interaction shape lived experience?This project will therefore contribute to an anthropological understanding of pharmaceuticals, opium production, as well as pain and addiction. Further, it will provide an empirically grounded contribution to the ongoing global debates about the availability and use of opiate medication.

First supervisor:

Carlo Caduff


3 – Health, Biopolitics & Social Inequality