Research

For many Americans, the college years signify a transitional period between adolescence and adulthood, where competing values systems shape individual identities and experiences. In this context, pharmaceutical treatments for Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have become objects of ongoing experimentation for students to increase cognitive function, manage time, and enhance overall college life. This research traces the social lives of these medications as they are prescribed, exchanged, and consumed on a large U.S. campus. It employs interviews and participant observation methods to explore the various networks and resources that are mobilized by drug seekers and the shifting discourses of health, performance, agency, and risk which surround these transactions. Specifically, I ask: how does the repurposing of mental health medications as ‘study drugs’ reproduce or complicate legacies of pharmaceutical normalization and enhancement in post-industrial American culture? In what ways do these experiments intersect local and institutional worlds and present new possibilities for constructing medical, social, and academic difference? How do their circulations through various networks produce agency or result in dependency on these drugs to improve health and/or performance? I argue that by identifying the contexts, actors, exchanges and value systems that facilitate the multiple uses of ADHD medications, this project provides a necessary anthropological understanding of this drug behavior. As a result, it also sheds light on the strategic ways U.S. college students are operating in shifting paradigms of medicalization, biomedicalization and pharmaceuticalization in order to achieve a successful college experience.

http://www.wennergren.org/grantees/karim-tazin-refat