@PharmaCulture – Where Prescription Drugs meet Digital Anthropology
Although fall semester is in full swing here at Michigan State University, and the first major frost has already ruined my morning, I am excited to take a break from the stress and the cold to introduce myself to my new digital (versus real or imaginary) friends. Hopefully in the midst of writing my dissertation, a conference paper, and postdoc applications, I still have some coherent thoughts left before I hit my quota for the day.
My name is Taz Karim and I am a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at MSU. I also currently serve as chair of the Alcohol, Drugs and Tobacco Study Group of the Society for Medical Anthropology. Outside of academia you can find me playing soccer (indoor and outdoor) or coaching crew on the Grand River. I also enjoy fashion, playing the guitar, riding my moped, and playing with my miniature pinscher, Lola. So yes, it is possible to have a fulfilling life outside of graduate school!
I initially got involved with digital anthropology, and with our faculty mentor, Ethan Watrall, through my role as an online course developer for Anthropology. We worked together with the faculty in our department, brainstorming ways to take existing live courses and converting them to a digital format. The most interesting part of this experience was learning how to take a teachable moment in a classroom (like audience participation, or in class exercises) and getting the same results in an online context. I also had a chance to develop my own course in Medical Anthropology last summer and experimented with interactive power point presentations, online activities and games, as well as blog posts to keep the students engaging with the materials.
Beyond online teaching, I am also interested in the broader field of digital anthropology. In particular, I am curious about using digital tools to explore anthropological phenomena (studying culture through social media) as well as the anthropological study of digital artifacts, environments and events (social media as culture). This aspect is especially interesting to me in my own research which looks at the social life of Adderall on college campuses. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the topic, U.S. college students are actively seeking out prescription medications for ADHD, namely Adderall, in order to repurpose them as study aids. There is a lot of controversy over this trend as more and more students are becoming reliant on these medications to get ahead academically and to manage their overall college experience. (Click here for to read a commentary I wrote on this for Somatosphere, the premiere online blog for medical anthropology)
For my project, I interviewed 50 college students about their experiences with the ADHD medications to find out how they were rationalizing their illegal, controversial and sometimes dangerous behaviors. I also followed several of them around throughout the year to get an understanding of how Adderall fits into their overall goals for mental health, social performance and academic success. While there are several aspects of this research that really surprised me, one of the more interesting things I uncovered was the way students were using social media to share their experiences with these drugs. For this reason, exploring the role of social media in both health maintenance and higher education will be a significant part of my research agenda.
Although I would like to consider myself tech-savvy, I am probably lying to myself. This is the primary reason why I am so excited to be a part of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative – so I gain a better understanding of the big black box we call “digital scholarship”. I am also very pleased with the diverse cohort of scholars that are joining me in this year’s fellowship – it is already clear that we each have our strengths coming into this program so it will be amazing to see the types of project we come up with.