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DISSERTATION DEFENSE

Wednesday, April 20, 2015 @ 10:00-12:00PM


Room C-103 McDonel Hall
THE MORAL LIFE OF ADDERALL:
Health, Empowerment, and Responsibility in the Era of Pharmaceuticalization
Tazin Karim Daniels
My dissertation is an ethnographic exploration of how pharmaceutical morality is challenged,
negotiated, and reconstructed through the social life of prescription stimulants. It takes place within the
setting of the modern American university, where students are experimenting with drugs like Adderall
and Vyvanse in an attempt to improve their medical, social and academic experiences. Sanctioned for the
treatment of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), these powerful medications require a
doctors prescription to access legally. However, studies indicate that they are commonly circulated among
peers, leading to illicit consumption rates of up to 43% in some college populations. Existing research of
this phenomenon focuses primarily on the motivations of the illicit user who appears at the end of the drugs
life cycle and explains their pharmaceutical choices according to calculated neoliberal logics. Alternatively,
I examine the entire life cycle of stimulants as a series of moral experiences in order to highlight the range
of logics that facilitate Adderall use. This includes questions of safety, fairness, legality, and efficacy
addressed by a range of actors and institutions that contribute to a moral understanding of this drug behavior.
I address these logics by linking together literature from the anthropology of morality and pharmaceutical
anthropology and contextualize increasing concerns around prescription stimulants as a key moment of
moral breakdown.
Data for this dissertation is based on fieldwork with a broad network of advertisers, health service
providers, and students involved in the stimulant economy at a large public institution, which I refer to as
American State University. This included a critical discourse analysis of modern pharmaceutical
marketing campaigns, participation in academic conferences and events, and informal interactions with
medical and educational professionals. In combination, these experiences provided a broader understanding
of the ADHD marketing and treatment landscapes and the ways in which prescription stimulants play an
increasingly integral, albeit controversial function. I also conducted interviews with 45 undergraduates to
explicate the the complex set of values and concerns that are associated with Adderall once it reaches the
college environment. I developed rapport with these students and observed them for the next 12-24 months
as they avoided, procured, distributed and consumed stimulants in various contexts. As a result, I was able
to document students interactions with prescription stimulants and the multiple medical, social, and
academic implications that followed.
My findings indicate that resistance to and participation in these pharmaceutical practices has
become a fundamental part of how numerous students construct themselves and are constructed by others
as healthy, empowered, and responsible individuals. By coupling interviews with observations, I was also
able to show how the symbolic meaning of stimulants became increasingly unstable as they moved from
marketing, to treatment, to circulation and finally consumption. This instability was most evident when
participants were faced with complex accusations of disease mongering, over/under-treatment,
malingering, drug dealing, academic dishonesty, laziness, and drug abuse. I was able to document the
strategies they developed to prevent and respond to these personal moments of moral breakdown, and the
multiple function of stimulants within these strategies. As a result, my dissertation sheds light on the
complex moral considerations and tradeoffs associated with being an empowered and responsible subject
in an increasingly pharmaceuticalized culture.