Psychostimulants in the Digital Space: An Insight into Pharmaceuticalisation

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 34 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Caroline ROBITAILLE, Universite de Montreal, Canada
Psychostimulants have known, for the last three decades, a “renaissance” of sorts. Relatively underutilized between 1970 and 1990, an increasing production, and use of prescription amphetamine and its derivatives continues to be observed by scholars and public health institutions. This accrued demand occurs in the context of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder gaining traction in clinical practice, for which psychostimulants are a treatment of choice. Furthermore, taking a broader perspective, this renewed interest in psychostimulants cannot be separated from a “performance ethic”, which permeates contemporary Western societies. (Ehrenberg, 1991) In the North-American context, these pharmaceuticals may be understood as tools to better adhere to values such as efficiency and control and, more practically, to answer to academic or work-related demands. Since the early 2000’s, researchers have observed a rise in the non-medical use of amphetamine and its derivatives among young adults, chiefly to improve academic performance.

Various conceptual frameworks have been called upon, within the social sciences, to explore the non-medical use of psychostimulants; among these, most notably, is pharmaceuticalisation. While this has allowed to position users’ practices within the broader political and economic context, there is a dearth of data pertaining to how psychostimulants contribute to fashioning contemporary subjectivities among young adults, within and beyond the academic setting. Exploring this question further, this communication draws on a netnographic study of psychostimulant-related online communities. Indeed, there is a growing overlap between the “virtual” and “physical” self (Boellstorff, 2012), and individuals are increasingly assembling within the digital space around various ideas and objects, including pharmaceuticals.  We argue that the adaptation of ethnographic methods to the online setting (Kozinets, 2010) may bring forth new insights into the socio-cultural dynamics and transformations underlying the use of psychostimulants. This also contributes to shedding additional light on the processes of biosocialisation and pharmaceuticalisation.