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Nickolas Surawy Stepney is a PhD student and graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine. He started his training at Manchester Medical School, before leaving to undertake a master's in Global Health and Social Justice at King's.

After a year of working as an assistant editor, he returned to study morphine use in northern India, funded by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) studentship. 


Thesis title: 'Morphine in India: An ethnographic study'

India is the only licit exporter of opium, yet within the country itself, only a tiny fraction of the population has access to morphine to treat severe pain. Nickolas' research will interrogate the multiple factors underlying the scarcity of this drug and analyse how this uncertainty of access shapes the lives of those living with and without it. In order to do this, a multi-sited ethnographic approach will be used.

In taking morphine as an ethnographic object, this research study will engage with three key research questions:

  1. What is the contemporary ‘biography’ of morphine in this location – how does it gain or lose status, how is it imagined, regulated and consumed?
  2. How does the history of opium production in India influence this contemporary formulation?
  3. How do individuals understand and interact with pain when strong medication is frequently unavailable?

This research study will, therefore, contribute to an anthropological understanding of pharmaceuticals, morphine production, as well as pain and addiction. Furthermore, it will provide an empirically grounded contribution to the ongoing global debates about the availability and use of opiate medication.

PhD supervision

Further details

See Nickolas' research profile