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Working with/against the Politics of Benevolent Neuroscience

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Kent

Session Submission Type: Traditional (Closed) Panel


Promises of neuroscientifically aided improvements of health and social life abound in the scientific press and popular media. This panel discusses developments in neuro-therapy and social neuroscience that confront psychological and socio-political perils of contemporary societies, including mental illness, learning disorders, racialized violence, and socio-economic stratification. We elucidate arguments and practices through which social injustice and traumatic life experience are located in the brain, and we inquire into the extent to which neuroscientists unwillingly stabilize injurious social orders by naturalizing them and the associated stigmata. Acknowledging the oftentimes explicitly benevolent goals of the scientists involved, we ask how STS scholars can go beyond ‘sensing’ potentially adverse assumptions and methodologies that underlie this research: How can we shape knowledge production in the neurosciences? What new skills might we have to acquire to engage in conversations with scientists and policy makers? To what extent do we want to embrace neuro-knowledges in our own work? The papers on this panel draw on feminist STS, disability studies, post-colonial studies, and history and philosophy of science. They extend the literature on ‘neuro-reductionism’ by focusing on the intersectional imaginaries of neuro-knowledges and neuro-technologies. In particular, the papers question the epistemic foundations of purported cerebral ‘types’, which depend not only on the specific institutional contexts of their production, but also on the irreducible neuro “multiple,” that is, differing but overlapping perceptions of what the brain is, how it functions, and how it relates to the rest of the body and an individual’s character (cf. Mol 2002).

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