The Drug Company Next Door

Pollution, Jobs, and Community Health in Puerto Rico

251 pages

12 halftones, 1 figure, 3 tables

June, 2013

ISBN: 9780814724736



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Alexa S. Dietrich is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wagner College. 

All books by Alexa S. Dietrich

Winner, 2015 Julian Steward Award from the American Anthropological Association
The production of pharmaceuticals is among the most profitable industries on the planet. Drug companies produce chemical substances that can save, extend, or substantially improve the quality of human life. However, even as the companies present themselves publicly as health and environmental stewards, their factories are a significant source of air and water pollutiontoxic to people and the environment. In Puerto Rico, the pharmaceutical industry is the backbone of the island’s economy: in one small town alone, there are over a dozen drug factories representing five multinationals, the highest concentration per capita of such factories in the world. It is a place where the enforcement of environmental regulations and the public trust they ensure are often violated in the name of economic development.
The Drug Company Next Door unites the concerns of critical medical anthropology with those of political ecology, investigating the multi-faceted role of pharmaceutical corporations as polluters, economic providers, and social actors. Rather than simply demonizing the drug companies, the volume explores the dynamics involved in their interactions with the local community and discusses the strategies used by both individuals and community groups to deal with the consequences of pollution.
The Drug Company Next Door puts a human face on a growing set of problems for communities around the world. Accessible and engaging, the book encourages readers to think critically about the role of corporations in everyday life, health, and culture.


  • "Dietrich presents the story of Nocora (a pseudonym), a municipality in Puerto Rico that has been the recipient of the blessing and curse of having pharmaceutical companies in its backyard."

    —I. Glasser, Choice

  • "Dietrich’s study fruitfully combines the old and the new as a traditional anthropological community study on a cutting-edge topic of profound global significance.”

    New West Indian Guide

  • "The Drug Company Next Door is ambitious, successful, closely reasoned, vivid, exciting, enormously distressing, and challenging on a political and theoretical level. Dietrich’s writing is so good that I would recommend this book for use at any level of anthropological study, from undergraduate all the way up."

    Political and Legal Anthropology Review

  • "This fascinating and most timely critical medical anthropology study successfully binds two still emergent areas of contemporary anthropological research in the global world: the nature and significant impact of multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers on human social life everywhere, and the contribution of corporations to the fast-paced degradation of our life support system, planet Earth. . . . Focusing on a pharmaceutically-impacted town on the colonized island of Puerto Rico, Dietrich ably demonstrates the value of ethnography carried out in small places in framing the large issues facing humanity."

    —Merrill Singer, University of Connecticut

  • "Offers a compelling and thought-provoking account of the politics of recognition in Nocorá Puerto Rico, a municipality where the stench of pollution pervades the air, soil, and water. In Nocorá one lives beneath the shadow of one's corporate `neighbors,’ an imposing complex of pharmaceutical companies that turns a blind eye to the insidious effects of toxic by-products while boasting of their lucrative trade in health elsewhere. Set against the invisibility of chronic suffering, local grassroots activists must always fight to be seen and heard. Here one encounters a lively cast of people who inhabit an environment both tranquil and contaminated. This is a smart and masterful portrayal of the realities of activism and the power of corporate public relations strategies, a convincing ethnography that integrates medical anthropology and political ecology in expert fashion. Every employee of Big Pharma should be required to read this book."

    —Lesley A. Sharp, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College