Tracing medicinal agencies: Antidepressants and life-effects

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This article is inspired by the social life of methods approach, joining a movement among social scientists engaging with ‘big data’ to contribute to methodological innovation and conceptual development in research and knowledge translation. It explores human-drug associations using a computational tool, Medicine Radar, meanwhile raising questions about the ways a digital device pushes us to rethink how drugs are known in the everyday. Medicine Radar is an apparatus for exploring human-drug associations by means of Suomi24 (Finland24) data, containing 19 million health-related online posts spanning a period of 16 years. Using defined markers, Medicine Radar sorts the medicine talk in health-related discussions, thereby assisting us to ‘see’ the actions of the drug and human responses to them. This kind of approach distances the drug from the illness experience, drawing attention to the private details of the human-drug relationship. The empirical analysis separates three areas of antidepressant use: articulations of reactions, stabilizing the life effects of drugs and coming to terms with antidepressants. Together, the online posts urge us to think of everyday experience where the effects of drugs – intended or unintended – are always lived. The side effects of antidepressants, including drowsiness, ravenous hunger, loss of sexual desire and emotional numbness, become life effects. As will be demonstrated, the move from conceptualizing such fallout as side effects to understanding them as life effects has political ramifications. The computation tool adds collective weight to antidepressant experiences and calls for politicizing their effects on life.




Ruckenstein, M. (2019). Tracing medicinal agencies: Antidepressants and life-effects. Social Science and Medicine, 235.

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