Carson Prize 2024: Helena Hansen, Jules Netherland, and David Herzberg

The Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) has awarded the 2024 Rachel Carson Prize to Helena Hansen, Jules Netherland, and David Herzberg for their book Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in America (University of California Press 2023).

The Rachel Carson Prize recognizes an outstanding book in the area of Science and Technology Studies (STS), which makes an important contribution to public debate or social change and has distinctive societal and political relevance.

The award committee received 54 books for consideration and shortlisted 8 works for this year’s prize.

In this deeply impressive pool of scholarship, the committee unanimously found Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in America to be exemplary in all these criteria.
Whiteout is a brilliant example of the generative, intellectual possibilities of politically-relevant collaborative, interdisciplinary work across STS, social sciences, psychiatry, and policy, where no one discipline could fashion the intervention alone. Drawing on extensive data collection by three leading experts in their fields–an addiction psychiatrist and anthropologist, a sociologist and policy advocate, and a drug historian–Whiteout contributes to STS scholarship on race and biocapitalism by analyzing the material and discursive construction of Whiteness and Blackness in the US opioid crisis.

Navigating the mutual, moralized constitutions of race in segregated drug policies, medical science, and the pharmaceutical market, the authors ask: How do the ascending pharmaceutical, biotechnological, and clinical care industries capitalize on concepts of white biological purity, self-control, and morality that are centuries in the making, and, in the process, how do they update, alter, and conceal Whiteness as an ideological system? This broad question of race at the intersections of STS and biocapital is distilled into investigating how two drugs, methadone and buprenorphine, become racialized as Black and White, respectively, through the specific workings of drug development in big pharma, addiction policies, and healthcare.

The authors show how the racialised construction of addiction as a biomedical problem, correctable through adjustments in brain chemistry as opposed to a personal, moral failing, harms significant portions of both white and Black people. While providing urgent insights into a very current crisis in the US, Whiteout broadly illuminates how health and technology are racialized in the present moment of global capital. The committee was particularly impressed with how the book deftly combined academic rigor with public scholarship that has the potential for wide readership. Providing great clarity on complex issues, Whiteout is the rare book that manages the balancing act of scholarship and public appeal, refusing to compromise either theoretical rigor or accessibility.


Helena Hansen, an MD, Ph.D. psychiatrist-anthropologist, is Professor of Psychiatry and Anthropology, Interim Chair of Psychiatry, and Interim Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. She is the author of over 100 articles and three books: Addicted to Christ: Remaking Men in Puerto Rican Pentecostal Drug Ministries; Structural Competency in Medicine and Mental Health: A Case-Based Approach to Treating the Social Determinants of Health (with Jonathan Metzl); and Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Heroin in America (with Jules Netherland and David Herzberg). She has received numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and 2021 election to the National Academy of Medicine.

Julie ("Jules") Netherland, PhD, focuses on the critical study of drugs, medicine, science and addiction. In 2023, she published, Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in America (UC Press, 2023), with Helena Hansen (UCLA) and David Herzberg (University of Buffalo). Netherland is also the managing director of the Department of Research and Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance, where she works on a number of issues, such as helping academics become more effective policy advocates, ensuring DPA's policy work is grounded in research and evidence, and promoting a health approach to drug policy. She holds a PhD in sociology from The Graduate Center, CUNY, a Masters in Social Work from Boston University, and B.A. from Bryn Mawr College.

David Herzberg is Professor of History and Director of the Drugs, Health, and Society program at the University at Buffalo (SUNY). He researches the nature and trajectory of drug commerce, drug use, and drug policy in American racial capitalism, especially in pharmaceutical white markets. His work has appeared in American Quarterly, the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, the American Journal of Public Health, the Washington Post, and in three books: Whiteout: How Racial Capitalism Changed the Color of Opioids in America (University of California Press, 2023) with Helena Hansen and Jules Netherland; White Market Drugs: Big Pharma and the Hidden History of Addiction in America (University of Chicago Press, 2020); and Happy Pills in America: From Miltown to Prozac (Johns Hopkins, 2009).

Honorable Mentions

The Carson Prize Committee would like to extend an Honorable Mention to Laura J. Martin for her book Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration (Harvard University Press, 2022); and to Joanna Wuest for her book Born This Way: Science, Citizenship, and Inequality in the American LGBTQ+ Movement (The University of Chicago Press, 2023.)

The book Wild by Design provides a detailed history of how ecological restoration, or the efforts to restore biotic relationships between species emerged in the US, from a diffuse practice to an international scientific undertaking. In a time of ecological disasters and global changes, it offers a compelling analysis of our histories and practices of intervention and active invention of environments involving science and settler colonialism. A meticulously researched book with great implications on how we understand environments, Wild by Design promises to be widely read by scholars and policymakers alike.

The book Born this Way examines the history of the LGBTQ+ movements through its intersections with scientific studies of gender and sexuality. The book shows how scientific authority was central to the struggles for queer rights in the US. At a time of dilapidated rights and increasing risks to minorities, it offers new light into the biopolitical nature of queer struggles, victories and its limits. The book’s perspective on contemporary queerness is also a refreshing contribution to longstanding issues in STS with regard to gender, natures, and biologies.

The list of finalists:

2024 Carson Prize Committee: Marko Monteiro (Chair), Melissa Creary, Monamie Haines, Canay Özden-Schilling and Vivian Choi.