John Mann

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    Exploring the Link: Cognitive Enhancing Drug Use by Students in HE, Neoliberalism and Human Capital

    The widespread use of cognitive enhancing drugs (CED), has over the past decade, emerged as a significant drug trend, particularly among the UK HE student population. However, although research into human enhancement drugs (HED), including CED, is increasing, it is nevertheless, an under-explored area. Accordingly, whilst there is a growing volume of US based research, students’ use of CED in UK HE institutions, is an under-researched topic (research that does exist, emphasises use in elite institutions, such as Oxford). Furthermore, as with drugs generally, much existing CED research tends to focus on, prevalence rates, the types of substances used, their chemical composition and effects; subsequently, there is minimal discussion around the role of wider economic, ideological forces in relation to CED use and thus, an absence of theoretical insight in the area. Hence, there are a lack of educational policies and political discussions concerning CED use by students in HE.

    Therefore, utilising a qualitative approach, this research will focus on neoliberalism and human capital, with the aim of establishing a theoretical framework of CED use by students in UK higher education, which is of significant interest, for the following reasons.

    In economics, Human Capital Theory, a central tenet of neoliberalism, the now dominant societal orthodoxy, challenges the key notion in classical economics, that human labour is an activity devoid of capital components. The refusal of classical economists to acknowledge the centricity of human capital in labour, is rooted in the belief in human emancipation, in liberty and the historical challenges associated with overcoming enslavement. Therefore, in classical economics, perceiving humans as forms of wealth, is vehemently rejected. However, neoliberal economists argue that, by acknowledging and perceiving humans as economic capital and the individual’s subsequent ability to invest in oneself, liberty is enhanced.

    This shift appears to establish autonomous individuals and re-defines wages as income, the potential for which, is dependent upon an individual’s particular attributes, which can be enhanced through self-investment. Therefore, neoliberal subjects can be thought of as constituted through the formation of human capital, engaged in an ongoing process of enhancement via self-investment, through productive consumption; for example, of education and CED.

    To achieve the primary aim of the research, I will conduct twenty, semi-structured, face-to-face individual interviews. Participants will be selected purposively, the criteria being, third year undergraduate students who have used CED. Gathered data will be transcribed, analysed and coded using NVivo data analysis software. The coding process will involve identifying words and narrative streams in the data, which link to and reflect neoliberal discourse; for example, words such as, competition, productivity, employability, results and success. Poststructuralist theories, principally those of Foucault, will provide the framework through which the data will be analysed and interpreted.

    john.mann@mmu.ac.uk


    Research Degree: PhD, Part-time
    Department: Sociology
    Research Centre: Research Centre for Applied Social Science (RCASS),
    The Substance Use and Addictive Behaviours (SUAB) research group