Nickolas Surawy Stepney

Thesis title:

Morphine in India: An Ethnographic Study


India is a country in which a vast quantity of opium is cultivated, and an equally vast quantity of morphine is manufactured. Yet so little of this pain-relieving medication ends up in use in the wards and out-patient facilities of the country’s hospitals. This central paradox is the key investigation in my research; it is a situation that is the intersection of historical factors, global markets, local knowledges and medical practices.

By conducting an ethnography of a regional cancer centre, alongside expert interviews with regulators, pharmaceutical representatives and medical professionals, I aim to to build a picture of the licit flow of morphine around India and to construct a genealogy of morphine in and around the North-Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In so doing I aim also to understand contemporary conceptions of pain and addiction, and situate these within the history of Indian opium production.

This project will contribute to an anthropological understanding of pharmaceuticals, morphine 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.


3 – Health, Biopolitics & Social Inequality