Pursuing Pleasures of Productivity: University Students’ Use of Prescription Stimulants for Enhancement and the Moral Uncertainty of Making Work Fun


This article presents ethnographic data on the use of prescription stimulants for enhancement purposes by university students in New York City. The study shows that students find stimulants a helpful tool in preventing procrastination, particularly in relation to feeling disinterested, overloaded, or insecure. Using stimulants, students seek pleasure in the study situation, for example, to get rid of unpleasant states of mind or intensify an already existing excitement. The article illustrates the notion that enhancement strategies do not only concern productivity in the quantitative sense of bettering results, performances, and opportunities. Students also measure their own success in terms of the qualitative experience of working hard. The article further argues that taking an ethnographic approach facilitates the study of norms in the making, as students experience moral uncertainty—not because they improve study skills and results—but because they enhance the study experience, making work fun. The article thereby seeks to nuance simplistic neoliberal ideas of personhood.

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Petersen, M.A., Nørgaard, L.S. & Traulsen, J.M. Pursuing Pleasures of Productivity: University Students’ Use of Prescription Stimulants for Enhancement and the Moral Uncertainty of Making Work Fun. Cult Med Psychiatry 39, 665–679 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-015-9457-4

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  • Prescription stimulants
  • Enhancement
  • University students
  • Pleasure
  • Moral uncertainty