Diana S. Kim, "Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition Across Southeast Asia" (Princeton UP, 2020)


In Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition across Southeast Asia (Princeton University Press, 2020) Diana Kim situates the regulation of vice at the heart of colonial state building. Through a layered comparison of opium prohibition in Burma, Malaya and Vietnam she shows how petty bureaucrats told stories to one another about opium that incrementally transformed into official problems, which those same bureaucrats and their successors had to solve. Prohibition did not come through grand decisions and decisive moments in old European metropoles and new international organizations so much as it did via accumulated observations and interpretations by thousands of “bad ethnographers” in the British and French imperial civil services.

Empires of Vice won the Giovanni Sartori Best Book Award, Qualitative Methods Section of the American Political Science Association, and got honourable mentions from the committees for the Charles Taylor Book Award, Interpretive Methodologies and Methods section of APSA, and the Allan Sharlin Memorial Award, Social Science History Association.

This is the fifth episode of New Books in Interpretive Political and Social Science to featuring an exemplary monograph in interpretive political or social science. The others are Natasha Behl on Gendered Citizenship, Lisa Wedeen on Authoritarian Apprehensions, James Scott on Against the Grain, and Sarah Wiebe on Everyday Exposure. To download or stream episodes in the series, please subscribe to our host channel: New Books in Political Science.

Nick Cheesman is an associate professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, Australian National University. He is a committee member of the Interpretive Methodologies and Methods group and co-convenes the Interpretation, Method, Critique network.

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Nick Cheesman

Host, Interpretive Political and Social Science; sometimes contributor, Southeast Asian Studies
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