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Drug Wars: The Influence of Psychoactive Rhetoric

ENGL 259.401
instructor(s):
Wednesdays 3-6:00 pm

Competing views about the dangers and potential benefits of drugs are ubiquitous. As the world transitions its drug laws regarding psychedelic medicines, the legalization of marijuana, and "mandatory minimum" jail sentences, how can we gain insight into the cultural history of drugs in our society? This Critical Speaking Seminar will provide the opportunity for students to directly engage with recent debates over drug legislation by critically reflecting on the evolution of literature about drugs over the past 250 years. In conversation with newspaper articles, scientific research, governmental reports, and literary texts, we will examine the history of drug use and legislation from America's early stages of prohibition through President Nixon's "war on drugs" to contemporary legal challenges. How does the cultural understanding of drugs change with shifts in rhetoric? How can we balance the need to protect society as a whole while still respecting individual freedoms and privacy? What role should the government play in regulating scientific research? How can the latest scientific and sociological research help to guide legislative decisions? We will respectfully explore opposing viewpoints through discussions, individual and group presentations, and in-class debates.