Visualizing global drug flows
: Transnational connections to the overdose crisis in New England, USA

  • Elayne Cronin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This documentary film practice-based PhD explores the impacts of two global drug trajectories: (a) heroin adulterated with illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), a powerful synthetic opioid; and (b) naloxone, an opioid overdose antidote used in the public health crisis of drug overdose deaths in Massachusetts, USA. Beginning locally in Massachusetts, I filmed parents reflecting on losing children to overdoses, first responders administering naloxone to save overdose victims, and public health outreach workers conducting post-overdose follow up visits to survivors. My purpose in starting here was to document a register of lived affects among ordinary people experiencing a public health crisis produced by global drug circulations and the coercive biopolitics of substance use disorders in the US. To visualize how these acute, local scenes of crisis and response in Massachusetts connect to global space and politics however, I traced heroin mixed with IMF back to cross-border trade nodes at the US-Mexico border, and I traced naloxone back to its raw material origins in legal poppy fields in Tasmania, Australia. First, I filmed some of the thousands of commercial tractor trailers entering US ports of entry daily to explore how the ‚phantom™ illicit drug hides within the speed, rhythm, volume, and scale required by legal US-Mexico logistics industries. Secondly, I followed naloxone back to legal poppy agricultural farms in Tasmania, Australia to film farmers growing poppies from seed to harvest to explore the agential intra-activity between human and more than human worlds expressed in practices of agricultural care. Losing A Whole Generation, a three-channel audio-visual installation within a living room set design visualizes the heterogenous affective, material and mobile connections between three distinct, distant life worlds: (1) community-based public health responses to drug overdoses in Massachusetts; (2) US-Mexico commercial trade at the Laredo, Texas port of entry; and (3) legal Tasmanian poppy farming. My PhD thesis demonstrates how documentary filmmaking is an exemplary method to develop new sites, senses and knowledge of international relations.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorDebbie Lisle (Supervisor)

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