Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


ChemicalYouth Report Summary

Project ID: 323646
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Mid-Term Report Summary - CHEMICALYOUTH (What chemicals do for youths in their everyday lives)

The everyday lives of contemporary youths are awash with chemicals to boost pleasure, moods, sexual performance, vitality, appearance and health. What we are witnessing is the ‘pharmaceuticalization’ of young people’s everyday lives, where biology is no longer seen as destiny.
The ChemicalYouth project makes use of ethnographic methods to map the chemical lives of young people in great detail. Our case studies reveal how youths inhabiting very different social worlds strive to feel happy, beautiful, alert, confident, sophisticated and much else through their daily practices of chemical use, which are embedded in and conditioned by ever-changing youth cultures, local markets, healthcare institutions and regulatory frameworks. Collectively our case studies point to the importance of the social relations surrounding chemical use, including how the ‘lived effects’ of substances are generated, how knowledge of specific drugs travels through youth networks, and how chemical use is mediated by social media and the internet.
At the project’s mid-point, we have finished the ‘grand tours’ of chemical use in ten cities in four countries: Makassar, Yogyakarta, Bulukumba and Jakarta in Indonesia; Batangas, Cagayan de Oro and Puerto Princesa in the Philippines; Paris and Lyon in France; and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. We now have sizable databases on everyday chemical use among young people in all four countries (drawing on over 100 ‘Head to Toe’ interviews in both the Netherlands and France, and around 400 such interviews in both the Philippines and Indonesia).
The grand tour phase of the project revealed how youth creatively tinker with their bodies and minds to facilitate their social and working lives. How does their collective experimentation construct knowledge of pharmaceutical efficacy? How do they develop their own modes of administration? How does information on chemicals and practices circulate? Inspired by the findings from the grand tours, these are the questions now being pursued in eight focused ethnographies by PhD students, and in another 27 smaller projects pursued by junior scholars.
Many of the projects make use of unconventional methods to engage more collaboratively with research participants. Alongside in-depth immersion in the field, methods include virtual ethnography and digital media analysis, video-elicitation, the pile sorting of photographs and products, label-making for products, video interviewing, and the writing of musical lyrics.
Members of ChemicalYouth have been involved in 52 presentations at conferences and universities. Highlights include the organization of the three-session open panel on ‘Fluid Drugs’ for the Society for the Social Studies of Science and Technology in November 2015. We are currently preparing a panel on ‘Chemical Relations and Mediations’ for the American Anthropological Association in 2016.
Members of ChemicalYouth have published 17 (often co-authored) articles and two special issues. “Ethnographies of Youth Drug Use in Asia” in the International Journal of Drug Policy (2014) pointed to the importance of ethnography for understanding chemical use in conditions of precarity. “Drugs’ Stories and Itineraries: On the Making of Asian Industrial Medicines in Anthropology & Medicine (2015) focused on the marketing, branding and circulation of medicines. We are currently working on “Harm Reduction from Below” for Contemporary Drug Problems (2016), addressing young people’s strategies to minimize risks when using recreational drugs.
In Indonesia and the Philippines, we are negotiating with local publishers to enhance the local utilization of our findings. A campaign is being developed with a Jakarta-based youth NGO which aims to prevent the abuse of psycho-active prescription drugs through social media messaging. Finally, the project has been approached for a monograph by the editors of the new Palgrave series on Uncertainty, Trust and Risk.


José Komen, (Executive Director)
Tel.: +31205252439
Fax: +31205252446
Record Number: 189057 / Last updated on: 2016-09-19