Eugene McCann

Professor, Department of Geography, Simon Fraser University

Associate faculty member in SFU Urban Studies and the SFU Centre for Global Political Economy

Office: RCB 6229; Phone 778.782.4599; Fax: 778.782.5841

Email: emccann [at] sfu [dot] ca

Twitter: @EJMcCann (Not that I tweet much. Mainly I use Twitter to follow more interesting people.)



This page is a summary of my ongoing research on geographies of drug policy. Below you'll find some paragraphs describing why a geographer is interested in drug policy and harm reduction. Further down, there are some of my papers and PowerPoint presentations (see the links on the left if you want to get there quickly). I'm happy to talk about my work and to make connections with others with similar interests (not just academics!). Please send me an email.

If you are a prosepctive graduate student, please read this before getting in contact.

What's geography got to do with it?

One defining feature of geography as an academic discipline is its interest in how places are similar and connected in certain ways while they are also different and disconnected in other ways. These connections and differences are not 'natural.' They are social constructions that have uneven consequences for the quality of people's lives and the character of the places where we live. To study geography, then, is not only to study space, but also to study society and power.

I research the politics of drug policy from a geographical perspective. I'm interested in how ideas about drug policy circulate from place to place via discussions among harm reduction advocates, the wider public, politicians, and international organizations. These discussions connect and empower people across the world, they can shape policies and they can change the quality of life of people living in particular places. To study drug policy from a geographical perspective, then, is to study expertise (not just 'credentialed' expertise but also the expertise of users and others), advocacy, networking, evidence, contestation, persuasion, and social justice.

All of these social and political processes are geographical in crucial ways. Look through the links on the left of this page, for example. Many of them refer to 'networks,' intended to bridge significant distances and bring people together for the purposes of learning and advocacy. This is a fundementally geographical strategy. Through my research, I hope to understand and clarify how geographical strategies like 'networking' influence drug policy.


Academic papers

McCann, E. 2011. Veritable inventions: Cities, policies, and assemblage. Area, 43(2), 143-147. [pdf]

  • A brief paper on 'assemblage,' a concept that focuses attention on how apparently coherent entities are actually gathered together and, therefore, can come apart and be reassembled. I argue that places and policies are assemblages and therefore can be reassembled in new ways. This is a geographical argument because assemblage is about gathering parts of elsewhere and bring them together in a specific place. It's also a political argument because it identifies the possibility of change. I use the case of the shift toward harm reduction policy in Vancouver to illustrate the point that expertise from elsewhere can be gathered together to affect change at home. I also reference the Vienna Declaration as a global-scale example of similar politics.

McCann, E. 2011. Points of reference: Knowledge of elsewhere in the politics of urban drug policy. In E. McCann and K. Ward eds. Mobile urbanism: Cities & policy-making in the global age. University of Minnesota Press. [pdf]

  • This paper begins with a vignette about the IHRA conference in Vancouver in 2006 and a simultaneous meeting in the city that advocated for the abstinence-oriented San Patrignano model of drug treatment. It then uses the case of drug policy and politics in Vancouver to argue that local politics are always also global. I show how strategic discussions of evidence from harm reduction programs in European cities were central to debates over Vancouver's Four Pillars approach both at the time when it was being instituted and also in the period afterwards. Debates about changing policy locally almost always involve stories and evidence from elsewhere. How those stories are told is crucial to the outcome of the debate.

McCann, E. 2008. Expertise, truth, and urban policy mobilities: Global circuits of knowledge in the development of Vancouver, Canada’s ‘Four Pillar’ Drug Strategy. Environment & Planning A, 40(4): 885-904. [pdf]

  • Why might geographers be interested in the campaign to institute harm reduction as one of the four pillars of Vancouver's drug strategy? I argue that the political campaign for harm reduction in Vancouver involved a geographical strategy involving the mobilization of models from Europe. I provide a sketch of how exactly these Europe-Vancouver linkages were made and utilized. The paper emphasizes the role of a wide array of experts and expertise in this process and emphasizes certain 'informational infrastructures' and mediators (including the mainstream media) that played a crucial role in shaping the debate over harm reduction drug policy.


Selected PowerPoint presentations (pdfs)

2011. Harm reduction as a global social movement. Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SFU Chapter) panel on Harm Reduction on Campus. March. [.pdf]

2011. Situated knowledge on the move? Reflections on urban policy mobilities/immobilities. Urban Geography Study Group of the Institute of Australian Geographers. Wollongong, NSW, July. [.pdf]

2010. Drug policy mobilities: Following harm reduction through urban built environments. SFU Faculty of Environment Public Lecture Series. October. [.pdf]

2009. Facts and friction: The politics of evidence in the mobilization of urban drug policy. Cascadian Mini-conference on Critical Geographies. Kelowna, BC, October. [.pdf]

2008. Urban policy and public health crisis: the complex implications of epidemic infection & drug overdose death in Vancouver, Canada, 1994- 2008. International Sociological Association, Research Committee on the Sociology of Urban and Regional Development (RC21) conference, Tokyo, December (with Stephanie Campbell). [.pdf]

2008. Down here: Situatedness, empowerment, and drug policy in Vancouver, British Columbia. Keynote address to the European Science Foundation/UNESCO Chair conference on The Right to the City: New Challenges, New Issues. Vadstena, Sweden, October. [.pdf]

2008. Urban/global: A geographical perspective on the role of cities and urban activists in the politics of harm reduction. International Harm Reduction Association 19th International Conference, Barcelona, May. [.pdf]



Video of a presentation I gave at SFU in 2010. It focuses largely on Drug Consumption Rooms and lasts about an hour, including the question & answer period. The pdf ("Drug policy mobilities: Following harm reduction through urban built environments") is in the list above, in case you want the full multi-media experience ...


For prospective graduate students

If you are interested in working on either a Master's or a Ph.D. with me on the sort of research topics you see on this page, I'd be happy to have a conversation with you. It will help if, when you contact me, you give me a brief outline of what you'd like to work on, specifically. This doesn't have to be very formal. It can just be a few lines in an email. But it should be specific: Why geographies of drug policy? What aspect(s) of drug policy, precisely? Bear in mind that there are many aspects of drug policy that I'm probably not able to effectively advise you on (the production side, for example, or the experience of use, per se). You can see above what it is I am interested in andwhat I know a little bit about. Prospective Ph.D. students should pay particular attention to the issue of 'fit.'

Before getting in contact, it would also be worthwhile having a look at this page to see what an application to the SFU Department of Geography entails and what our standard funding models are.

Still interested? Send me an email!




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since October 19 2011