Pharmaceutical Self: The Global Shaping of Experience in an Age of Psychopharmacology

Edited by Janis H. Jenkins

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The use of psychoactive drugs—drugs that affect the brain—is nothing new in human history, but in recent decades dramatic changes have taken place that influence when, why, and where people take such medications. Janis Jenkins, editor of Pharmaceutical Self and chair of the advanced seminar from which it arose, shared a magazine cartoon at her colloquium presentation: A doleful man sits across from his doctor. “My dosage needs adjustment,” he says. “I’m not as happy as the people in the ads.” The joke humorously focuses our attention on this volume’s crucial purpose: “to analyze the nexus of culture and psychopharmacology in the context of a globalizing world.”

Regardless of why people take these drugs—for therapeutic, nontherapeutic, or recreational reasons, whether to alleviate suffering or enhance performance, whether to wake up or to sleep—the contributors to this volume ask “to what extent are Homo sapiens transforming themselves into pharmaceutical selves on a scale previously unknown? Does the meaning of being human increasingly come to mean not only oriented to drugs but also produced and regulated by them? From the standpoint of cultural phenomenology, does this reshape human ‘being’?" Noting that the extent of psychopharmacological use in the United States alone may be as high as 25 percent of the adult population, Jenkins also asks, “How are cultures, societies, and nation-states transformed by sizeable proportions of the population regularly ingesting psychopharmaceutical compounds?”

Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, says, “The thematic, theoretical, and geographic breadth of this volume—with experience-near accounts from settings as different as under-resourced clinics in Indonesia to homeless shelters in Chicago—provides valuable contributions to the burgeoning anthropology of psychopharmacology. Essential reading.”

Find out more and purchase Pharmaceutical Self by visiting the SAR website (opens in new browser window).

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