Accepted Paper:

Somadril and edgework in South Sulawesi  


Anita Hardon (Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes how in South Sulawesi sex workers use a potent painkiller, which they can buy freely over the counter in pharmacies, to feel confident (and less shame) when approaching clients. They use large quantities, and pool resources to buy the desirable drug.

Paper long abstract:

The use of psychoactive prescription drugs (PPDs) by young people is part of a broader worldwide trend towards the consumption of pharmaceuticals to improve social, emotional, and sexual performance. The paper uses the concept of ‘edgework’ to make sense of PPD use by young people. Edgeworkers are at once attracted by the sensation of being on the edge as an intense form of pleasure, and the accomplishment of being able to avoid a bad or disastrous effect. Ethnographically the paper focuses on PPD use among sex workers in two cities in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. They frequently use one potent painkiller, Somadril, which is freely available over the counter in pharmacies. Despite their cautious use of PPDs, our informants have become dependent. The sex workers reported using between 6 and 24 pills a day, far above the recommended daily maximum. They crave for Somadril, suffering all kinds of aches and pains, anxiety, and insomnia when they cannot get it. They manage their dependence by pooling resources to buy Somadril, and by sharing cheaper alternatives if they cannot afford their preferred substance. This paper also traces the history of the active component in Somadril, carisoprodol. Developed in the United States where it was soon used recreationally, we found that knowledge of its effects in our urban field sites seeped from health professionals into youth networks, where it spread by word of mouth. The flow of information on carisoprodol’s harmful effects, however, was less evident.

Panel P020
Future(s) with/of the human body