Melina is a Ph.D. Candidate in Communication at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Melina’s Dissertation…

My dissertation develops a cultural analysis of addiction through the lens of the ongoing U.S. opioid epidemic. In particular, this project is focused on unpacking the historical, cultural, and political economic conditions underlying the development of the field of pain management and the uptake of opioids as the best (if not only) solution for the problem of pain. My approach to the epidemic is interdisciplinary and multi-faceted – focusing on key domains such as media representation, pharmaceutical branding, the genealogy of pain medicine and addiction science, institutional analyses of U.S. drug regulation, and the critical analysis of the re-production of race and technologies of whiteness in drug policies, law, and rehabilitative technologies (such as the use of privatized medication-assisted treatments and the popularization of problem-solving “treatment courts”).

In the next iteration of my project, which I envision as the final step toward transforming my dissertation research into a book, I will conduct ethnographic research within the digital spaces where patients, addicts, and other individuals come together – combining their own experiences, lay expertise, and familiarity with the technicalities of U.S. drug law and regulation to construct a space where they can safely discuss and engage in self-medication practices. The ways in which individuals engage with and manipulate recent innovations in biotechnology and digital technology raises questions about how the world of contemporary drug use is changing – veering more toward more potent, synthesized molecules and genetic formulations that mimic familiar pharmaceutical biotechnologies (i.e., fentanyl) and that, despite the sophisticated nature of their development and distribution, are discussed, re-configured, and made legible in new ways by the individuals who make, sell, discuss, and use them.. These “new opioids” have become central to the community of practice that constitutes digitally-based drug culture – a culture which exists in constant tension with the legal, regulatory, and corporate logics that seek to govern and exploit it.

Research Areas of Interest

  • Communication studies
  • Science, technology, & society [STS]
  • Cultural studies
  • Political economy
  • Feminist theory
  • Discourse analysis
  • Biopolitics
  • Institutional and historical forms of analysis
  • Youth culture, subcultural politics