My parents lived in a trailer park in Provo, Utah when I was born. My father was a student at Brigham Young University; my mother, a cashier at Burger King. We struggled to get by until my father found a stable job as a machine operator at a paper and pulp factory, and my mother went against her Mormon faith to get a job outside the home in a steel plant. Despite their struggles, my parents still believe in the American Dream, and they raised me to look toward education as one way of escaping poverty. While I worked in factories, warehouses, and scrapyards to help pay for college, I realized that the formal economy no longer provides many working class folks with the means to pursue the American Dream. I watched as people turned to legal and illegal drugs to manage the trauma of poverty. My parents believed that education would help me live the American Dream, but for me, and many in my generation, it only helped explain the complex economic realities that keep it from coming true for so many people.
My close and personal connection with poor and working class families provided me with tragic insight into how people manage trauma. As I searched for solutions, I began to study the history of industrial capitalism and its relationship to the legal and illegal drug trades. I accepted that the impulse for intoxication is as natural as the desire for sex, and that, one way to understand the limitations and extent of state power is to investigate how states regulate narcotics. But I became especially interested in how poor and working class families in the industrialized United States interacted with doctors and pharmaceutical companies to name their trauma, make it medical, and find remedies for it. My dissertation—tentatively titled This Broken Machine: Medicating the American Working Class, 1935-2016—investigates how anxiety, attention deficit, pain, and addiction were medicalized or re-medicalized within the working class family in the twentieth century.
John Perry Christensen
PhD Candidate University of Utah (History)
Adjunct Professor Utah Valley University (History & Philosophy)
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and with each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” — David Mitchell