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[New publication!] “State of Intoxication” in eTropic

My latest article has been published by eTropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, appearing in the special issue, Pandemic, Plague, Pestilence in the Tropics. My article, '"State of Intoxication:" Governing Alcohol and Disease in the Forests of British North Borneo', looks at how issues of alcohol consumption, disease and public health affected indigenous Murut communities across British North Borneo in the 1920s and 1930s.

My article shows how, amidst widespread economic stagnation, the British North Borneo Company shunned vital public health infrastructure and medical aid, opting instead to govern behaviour and condemn alcohol consumption. It further explores how the company perpetuated racist assumptions concerning ostensible alcohol addiction amongst Murut communities, ignoring the fact that alcohol was a common, often innocuous feature of life for many of the colony's rural poor.

My article offers insights, too, into how wider issues of addiction were conflated with racial stereotypes and notions of colonial superiority that were dominant in that era. See p. 206, for instance:

...colonial stigmatisation of addiction even extended to cases where alcohol did not produce adverse behavioural or health issues. Sweeping claims and race-based generalisations emerged from rumour, hearsay and sporadic colonial visits to upland communities.

"A small dispensary, with dressers and carrier" (The National Archives, UK, CO 531/25/8).

Almost a century later, these issues remain relevant today, where:

...colonial-­era assumptions concerning indigenous alcohol dependency have cast a long shadow and continue to shape perceptions of indigenous life today.

Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (where Sabah stands to be affected disproportionately relative to other parts of Malaysia), understanding the legacies of widespread inequalities in public health resources and infrastructure offers crucial insights.

Full citation details: David R. Saunders, ‘“State of Intoxication:” Governing Alcohol and Disease in the Forests of British North Borneo,’ eTropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 20.1 (2021), pp. 202–25. (


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