Memory, Forgetting, and Economic Crisis: Drug Use and Social Fragmentation in an Argentine Shantytown


Closely linked to the increase in psychotropic pill consumption, forgetting and remembering emerged from devastated social scenarios as a new local idiom among poor youth in the late 1990s and the new millennium. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out during the years of the deepest economic crisis in Argentina (2001–03), I argue that psychotropic pill consumption is associated with not only deteriorating economic conditions but also changes in the quality and price of cocaine, and in the scarcity and subsequent change of status of medications during the economic breakdown. Taking into account developments in the field of memory studies, I examine the relationship among political economy, social memory work, and changing drug-use practices. Regarding memory as a social practice, I argue that the growth of psychotropic pill consumption in the late 1990s can be understood through the interplay of Paul Ricoeur’s notions regarding different kinds and levels of forgetting. By analyzing changing survival strategies, social network dismantlement, changing mortality patterns, and abusive police repression, I discuss how social fragmentation engendered by structural reforms has modified social memory work.