Performance Enhancing Drugs – College Edition

Passing with Pills: Redefining Performance in the Pharmaceuticalized University”  is a very thoughtful and thought provoking ethnographic look in the mirror.  Tazin Karim of Michigan State University did an excellent job applying a critical, medical anthropological lens to academia and the pressures of the rite of passage in America referred to as college.  
When discussing the exportation/globalization of mental illness and Western pharmaceuticals, undergrads in both my Intro to Anthropology discussion sections admitted to knowing a ‘friends’ who used Academic Performance enhancing drugs …  I have to admit my own caffeine dependence could fall in the same category.  American culture in general gives preference to substances which promote productivity and the University is no exception.  A few of my students discussed being prescribed Ritalin and Adderall long before they entered a college campus.  One girl described for us how ease it had been for her best friend to get a prescription, which she used primarily to write papers and make it through finals week.  

I think this is a very serious issue which is largely ignored because it gets the desired results and is socially linked to productivity and achievement.  For my part, some might argue that I am part of the problem, as a graduate student and teaching assistant who was aware of these thinly veiled “confessions.”   But I am 25 years old which makes me only a few years older than most of my students and this time four years ago I was the undergrad who had close friends doing the same thing.  However, it also raises an important ethical issue.  This was information I gained from a semester of building rapport with my students and a safe environment for discussion in my classroom.  In that moment, I saw my responsibility in guiding my students to think critically about the social and structural pressures that make the need for academic performance drugs and in interrogating the problematic dichotomy between legal prescription drugs and illegal drugs.  I pushed them to critically think about any substance they put in their body and I urged them to be accountable for researching these medicines, their purpose and their side effects.  In that classroom, I felt that was the extent of my ability to influence the matter.

But as a medical anthropologist, I think this is definitely an issue which merits further investigation and careful attention to potential solutions that address this “inconvenient truth.”  Karim’s narratives demonstrate the hidden reality on our campuses.  I hope to see more work along these lines in the future.



While it is frequently difficult to identify paradigm shifts as they are happening, I believe I stumbled upon one tonight.  My boyfriend, Greg Wright, was telling me about this fascinating new project he discovered that will allow people to interact and play RPGs online in the dynamic new way in a world that is ultimately the players creation.  He found this project through a fascinating site called kickstarter, which allows people to share their creative new projects and to follow and fund creative projects posted by others.  Through a system which in many ways mirrors the concept behind microloans, creative entrepreneurs of the 21st-century are funded not by banks, corporations, investment firms, or entrepreneurial capitalist, but instead individual cyber citizens from around the globe. Each project sets a minimum required budget and posts what might be called a “business plan” which includes project related incentives promised each backer according to the financial pledge made.  Individuals can make small donations, most have a minimum of $1, or people can make substantial donations and become more directly involved in the project.  This site allows new business ideas a to flourish or parish based on their ability to convince other people on the Internet of the value of their idea and the utility of the project.

Hearing about the site reminded me of how growing up during the birth of the digital age my generation received innumerable speeches about how we would all be working in “jobs that the yet to be created.”  In my previous blog post, I wrote about the frustration felt by many in my generation about the failure of this promise to manifest immediately upon graduating from college and how in my opinion the occupied movement is a manifestation of my generation’s frustration at this failure and what is even many of the failure of the capital system.  My immediate response to hearing about Kickstarter was that this was the perfect springboard for all of those promised “jobs that have yet to be created” that I generation grew up expecting to make into their careers.

If the occupy movement is a global declaration of the “problem,” then the idea behind kickstarter is the solution.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the specific website is the only solution.  However, the same way that eBay and its partner PayPal revolutionized online sales, kickstarter’s application of Kiva’s microloans system to creative projects offers creative individuals a means of turning cyber capital into the financial backing necessary for taking projects from imagination to innovation.  In this, I see the paradigm shift which might be categorized as being post-capitalist.  the paradigm shift being generated by the cyber market is not Marxist or Socialist because individuals and companies are definitely capable of making substantial profits. However, the global reality of cyberspace has left governments struggling to keep legislation up to date as evidenced by the recent attempts in the United States (SOPA, PIPA) and the international treaty (ACTA) to legislate against piracy.  Cyberspace has its own morality and self-governing mechanisms which it seems only “digital natives” understand.  cyber capital is intrinsically linked to the ability of a the website, idea, video, picture, or phrase to “go viral.”  going viral can have either a positive or negative impact through the equivalent of the social sanctions of honor and shame. While many people tend to dismiss things happening online as “not real,” viral honor and viral shame can have extremely real world implications.  In the United States, News/Media outlets and general public were focused to acknowledge the “real world” implications of cyber events during the chain reaction of cyber-bullying leading to suicides which led to the It Gets Better movement and the passing of cyber-bullying laws.  But there are other concrete examples such as the temporary stock crash of AT&T, KONY2012, Clint McCance, even the importance of the youth vote and Obama Girl to Obama’s election.

While that guy from the KONY 2012 video miscalculated when saying, “there are more people on facebook today, than were on the planet 200 years ago” that doesn’t mean powerful idea he was trying to monoplize on was incorrect.   The human race is infinitely more connected today despite our ever growing population recently hitting 7 Billion.  Digital communication is so much faster, and frequently more reliable, than the News.  This has actually led to the News reporting about what is being said and done online.  However, the importance of cyberspace, digital communication, and social networking can no longer be ignored or dismissed as a passing childhood phase.  Cyber capital generated by viral honor and viral shame shapes our lives in very real ways.  As more and more people are finding ways to “make a living” in cyberspace this is one subsistence pattern which can no longer be ignored.   This paradigm shifting subsistence pattern is post-capitalism or at the very least post-neoliberalism.  In honor of its importance to the digital age and the because its value system is one of the core cultural value of cyberspace, I suggest we call this new way of getting things done OpenSource-Capitalism.  After all people are still making money… eventually, but this isn’t your father’s capitalism.