Accepted Paper:

Limitless?: Embodiment and the social imaginaries of cognitive enhancers in the workplace  


Brian Bloomfield (Lancaster University)
Karen Dale (Lancaster University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the social imaginaries associated with production and consumption of drugs for cognitive enhancement in the area of work/professional practice. For some time now there has been a plethora of media reports concerning the unofficial/off-label use of drugs (e.g. modafinil) by business people, academics and students. Whilst the efficacy and risks associated with such usage remain controversial, cognitive enhancement has become the object of scientific inquiry as well as ongoing ethical debate, with the potential for enhancement in the workplace also coming under the spotlight. Drugs for cognitive enhancement are seen as offering the prospect of solutions for various problems of performance in employment - ranging from the maintenance of performance on tasks under conditions of physical/mental stress (e.g. long/complex surgical procedures; long shifts in transportation; or military personnel in demanding combat situations); to the enhancement of individuals' cognition so as to enable them to perform tasks from which they would otherwise be excluded in the labour market.

Regarding the conference theme of 'situating solidarities', the notion of co-production in relation to the use of cognitive enhancers begs some difficult questions about the governance of technology; not least because in the context of the employment relationship work is characterised by various asymmetries of power/knowledge between employer and employee. Indeed, the prospect of enhancement sits uneasily alongside existing managerial control measures and testing regimes that seek to govern employees' cognitive performance in respect of sleep/rest work patterns or the consumption of legal and illegal drugs.

Panel E2
Coproduction of emerging biomedical technologies