Veils of Global Health: the Visual Politics of the Cigarette Industry in and outside of China

Veils of Global Health: the Visual Politics of the Cigarette Industry in and outside of China
Talk by Matthew Kohrman, Stanford University


Monday, October 13, 2014
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383



This talk examines the visual legibility of a notorious product’s supply chain. Few products have been criticized more than cigarettes in recent years. Meanwhile, the factories that make cigarettes rarely get problematized. What optics have helped these key links in the cigarette supply chain to be overlooked? Using a comparative approach, I address that question, drawing upon new mapping techniques, fieldwork, and social theory. A corporate impulse to hide from public health measures, particularly recently created global mechanisms of tobacco control, is not the only mechanism at work. Cigarette factory optics have been coproduced by multiple processes, some common to all forms of manufacturing. Cigarette makers, moreover, do not always run from global tobacco control. Nor have they been avoiding all other manifestations of biopolitics. Rather, in various ways, cigarette makers have been embracing biopolitical logics, conditioning them, even using them to manage factory legibility. Manufacturing of cigarettes in China highlights important variations in the arts of the factory veil. In much of the world, the tactics currently shaping the visibility of cigarette manufacturing, skew toward an aesthetic of opacity. Other optics, though, are frequently at work in contemporary China, more akin to a diaphanous, playful veil. The rise of these more playful optics has been particularly significant in normalizing cigarette manufacturing in the P.R.C., encouraging citizens there to think of cigarette factories as not just commonplace and unremarkable, but as even congenial facets of urban landscapes.

Matthew Kohrman joined Stanford’s faculty in 1999. His research and writing bring anthropological methods to bear on the ways health, culture, and politics are interrelated. Focusing on the People's Republic of China, he engages various intellectual terrains such as governmentality, gender theory, political economy, critical science studies, narrativity, and embodiment. His first monograph, Bodies of Difference: Experiences of Disability and Institutional Advocacy in the Making of Modern China, examines links between the emergence of a state-sponsored disability-advocacy organization and the lives of Chinese men who have trouble walking. Recently, Prof. Kohrman has been involved in research aimed at analyzing and intervening in the biopolitics of cigarette smoking among Chinese citizens. This work expands upon heuristic themes of his earlier disability research and engages in novel ways techniques of public health, political philosophy, and spatial history.

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Published: Tuesday, October 14, 2014