Leeds Centre for Medical Humanities

An interdisciplinary collaboration between the Faculties of Arts and Medicine & Health at the University of Leeds

The Cultural Life of Smart Drugs: An Interdisciplinary Workshop

Centre for Medical Humanities, University of Leeds

18 May 2016, 2-4pm

I like now to think of the Obetrol and other subtypes of speed as more of a kind of signpost or directional sign, pointing to what might be possible if I could become more aware and alive in daily life.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (2011)


With the growth of a culture of ‘working extremely’, the boundaries between what is seen as ‘normal’ enhancement activities, for example, drinking coffee, and what would have been seen as ‘pathological’ or ‘asocial’ activities, such as drug-taking, are renegotiated.

Brian Bloomfield and Karen Dale, ‘Fit for Work? Redefining Normal and Extreme through Human Enhancement Technologies’, Organization, 22.4 (2015)


From the blockbuster film Limitless to a special report in the Observer, the public ear is increasingly attuned to debates about smart drugs: medications used by students and workers to boost mental performance. Drugs like Adderall (usually prescribed for ADHD) and Modafinil (a treatment for narcolepsy) have gained a reputation as neuro-enhancers. The practice of ‘cosmetic pharmacology’ disrupts many of the binaries that structure dominant understandings of health, illness and disability. Are smart drugs forms of treatment, enhancement, or both? Are they changing ways of working, or expectations of workers? How have they been represented in novels and films? Join a group of researchers from the fields of literature, social policy, and cultural history to discuss these questions and more.



Ashley Bullard – Governing the Potential for Perfection

Hallvard Haug – All Enhancement is Moral Enhancement

Sophie Jones –  Stimulating Contemporary Literature

Stuart Murray – Disability and the Posthuman: Extension and Augmentation


The event is free, but registration is essential. Please email Sophie Jones at S.Jones1@leeds.ac.uk to secure your place.

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