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Social Science and Neuroscience beyond Interdisciplinarity: Experimental Entanglements

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This article is an account of the dynamics of interaction across the social sciences and neurosciences. Against an arid rhetoric of 'interdisciplinarity', it calls for a more expansive imaginary of what experiment – as practice and ethos – might offer in this space. Arguing that opportunities for collaboration between social scientists and neuroscientists need to be taken seriously, the article situates itself against existing conceptualizations of these dynamics, grouping them under three rubrics: 'critique', 'ebullience' and 'interaction'. Despite their differences, each insists on a distinction between sociocultural and neurobiological knowledge, or does not show how a more entangled field might be realized. The article links this absence to the 'regime of the inter-', an ethic of interdisciplinarity that guides interaction between disciplines on the understanding of their pre-existing separateness. The argument of the paper is thus twofold: (1) that, contra the 'regime of the inter-', it is no longer practicable to maintain a hygienic separation between sociocultural webs and neuro-biological architecture; (2) that the cognitive neuroscientific experiment, as a space of epistemological and ontological excess, offers an opportunity to researchers, from all disciplines, to explore and register this realization.
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Theory, Culture & Society
2015, Vol. 32(1) 3–32
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DOI: 10.1177/0263276414537319
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Article
Social Science and
Neuroscience beyond
Interdisciplinarity:
Experimental
Entanglements
Des Fitzgerald
King’s College London
Felicity Callard
Durham University
Abstract
This article is an account of the dynamics of interaction across the social sciences and
neurosciences. Against an arid rhetoric of ‘interdisciplinarity’, it calls for a more
expansive imaginary of what experiment – as practice and ethos – might offer in
this space. Arguing that opportunities for collaboration between social scientists
and neuroscientists need to be taken seriously, the article situates itself against
existing conceptualizations of these dynamics, grouping them under three rubrics:
‘critique’, ‘ebullience’ and ‘interaction’. Despite their differences, each insists on a
distinction between sociocultural and neurobiological knowledge, or does not show
how a more entangled field might be realized. The article links this absence to the
‘regime of the inter-’, an ethic of interdisciplinarity that guides interaction between
disciplines on the understanding of their pre-existing separateness. The argument of
the paper is thus twofold: (1) that, contra the ‘regime of the inter-’, it is no longer
practicable to maintain a hygienic separation between sociocultural webs and neuro-
biological architecture; (2) that the cognitive neuroscientific experiment, as a space of
epistemological and ontological excess, offers an opportunity to researchers, from all
disciplines, to explore and register this realization.
Keywords
biology, collaboration, critical neuroscience, critique, experiment, methodology,
the social
Corresponding author: Des Fitzgerald. Email: des.fitzgerald@kcl.ac.uk
Extra material: http://theoryculturesociety.org/
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Introduction
A spectre haunts social science: the spectre of the brain. We are,
writes the historian Roger Cooter, in the midst of a pernicious ‘neuro-
turn’, in which scholars assume that, among other things, ‘“the social,”
and “life” itself have ...undergone a refashioning as a result of the new
life sciences in general and neurobiology in particular’ (2014: 146). With
the advent of this turn, the anthropologist Emily Martin argues:
we are seeing the effects of a form of reduction that is likely to
impoverish the richness of human social life ....Social practices
involved in gift giving, child raising, courting, working, cohabiting,
co-organizing and a myriad others – all situated in particular
contexts, times and places – fall out of the picture and do not
return. (2010: 369)
Such laments – and they are not idiosyncratic (Ortega and Vidal, 2007;
Choudhury et al., 2009) – should be situated within a broader anxiety,
evident in the humanities and social sciences in the last decade, about the
increasing tendency for researchers, from several disciplines, to blur the
boundaries between the traditional concerns of a social or humanistic
interest, and the technologies and methods of the neurosciences. Many
interpretative and humanistic scholars have thus begun to sense, within
their once-secure intellectual domains, the soft, ominous tread of the new
brain sciences (Cromby et al., 2011). And if this intellectual development
is truly a ‘refashioning of our older disciplinary habits of the heart’,
Cooter continues, in an unusually dramatic intervention, then there
can be ‘no task ...more vital and urgent’ than its critique (2014: 154).
Perhaps we should not be too surprised by such talk: ‘the materiality
of the world’, Helga Nowotny reminds us, has a tendency to ‘upset the
existing intellectual division of labour, and the cognitive and practical
order upon which boundaries rest’ (2005: 24). But if we are indeed
living in a neurobiological age, what are we actually to do – and we
use ‘we’ here performatively, to gather together social theorists, human-
ists, and qualitative social scientists – when the webs of human social
and cultural life that we had come to understand as our particular
object of knowledge seem more and more open to being figured neu-
roscientifically and experimentally?
1
Certainly, solutions have been
offered – that we subject the new brain sciences to a refined socio-
critique (Ortega and Vidal, 2007); that we demand their political
reform (Choudhury et al., 2009); that we welcome them into cultural
theory (Wilson, 2004a, 2011); that we use them to upset our taken-for-
granted assumptions (Stafford, 2008); that we embed them within our
accounts of the political (Connolly, 2002); that we regard their
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deconstruction of subjectivity as more effective than Derrida’s own
(Malabou in Johnston and Malabou, 2013); that we join them
(Roepstorff et al., 2010); that we analyse them (Dumit, 2004; Cohn,
2008); that we reject them (Martin, 2004); that we accept them (Franks,
2010); that, taking the longer view, we locate them within a much
thicker braid of social and biological torsion (Rose, 2013). So, on
and on, go the debates.
We are in various states of agreement and disagreement with these
proposals. Recent calls by Rose (2013) and by Rose and Abi-Rached
(2013) for new ways of figuring the space between the social- and
neuro-sciences have been particularly important for what follows. But
we want also to expand that discussion into a new terrain: the terrain of
the experimental. If there has been extensive discussion of what these
developments entail conceptually and institutionally for the social sci-
ences and humanities (Cromby, 2007; Pickersgill, 2013), there has been
less critical attention given to what the rise of the neurobiological age
might entail for the social sciences and humanities methodologically and
in practice. If a wider social-science literature is taken up with expressions
of straightforward gratitude for, or equally straightforward rejection of,
findings from neuroscientific experiments, there has been little suggestion
that experimental labour itself might be worthy of sustained attention
from social scientists and humanists.
2
What would happen if we changed the spatio-temporal dynamics of
this scene? What if social scientists and humanists moved away from
conceiving the domains of the neuroscientific and the experimental as
the unchallenged province of the brain sciences – whose apparent terri-
torial expansiveness they must welcome, ignore or repel? Could the neu-
roscientific experiment, as a rich and ambiguous way of producing
different knowledges, help us to think some more creative and entangled
ways of exploring these questions? In this article, we claim another intel-
lectual space, cutting across the contemporary neurosciences and social
sciences. There are three elements to our proposal: (1) If there is
now much critical, conceptual discussion about the space ‘between’ the
social- and neuro-sciences, there is strikingly little attention to how meth-
odological novelty, serendipity and contingency might conjure a more
constructive space of shared collaboration. (2) A turn to ‘experiment’
offers an entry-point to this space. We fix on experiment because it cap-
tures both: (i) the means by which cognitive neuroscience derives many of
its epistemological claims from laboratory practices, and (ii) a wider
ethos of openness to different procedures of action and investigation
(Morawski, 1988). And if we are preoccupied with cognitive neuroscien-
tific experiments that employ magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
(Poldrack, 2010; Bandettini, 2012), our proposal extends an invitation
to other histories and territories of ‘experimental entanglement’ – to
Fitzgerald and Callard 5
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correlational or observational studies, to clinical spaces, to behavioural
research, or indeed to any other site of the broadly-conceived experimen-
tal repertoire of the new brain sciences. (3) Through our turn to meth-
odological novelty, and to experiment in all its guises, we propose what
we believe to be a more compelling platform for scholars who may have
some urge, now, to think through the intersections of neurobiological
and social life. In particular, we want to help such scholars circumvent a
burgeoning, but bloodless and sterile, literature on ‘interdisciplinarity’
between the social sciences and the life sciences. ‘Experimental entangle-
ments’ is our name both for a new way of addressing these questions and
for the contingent, unstable, fleeting empirical commitments in which
that argument is embedded.
In what follows, we do not follow these threads in order, but work
them through a four-part argument. First, we consider recent develop-
ments in the neurosciences, and we show how collaborative possibilities
for the ‘social’ sciences have opened up around them. Second, we offer a
sustained analysis of literatures that have already interpreted this space,
which we group under three headings: critique,ebullience and interaction.
Third, we argue that this entire discursive space is torqued by a series of
epistemological and ontological commitments that limit the scope of
collaboration between the neurosciences and social sciences. We name
this limitation ‘the regime of the inter-’. Fourth, we elaborate our own
programme of ‘experimental entanglements’, and we argue that our inter-
est in contingent, fleeting moments of methodological novelty may offer
potent possibilities for inhabiting the space we have identified. At the
heart of the article is an argument for re-thinking the laboratory-based
experimental domains of the cognitive neurosciences as both spaces and
moments for firing strange alliances between neuroscientists and social
scientists.
In a related publication (Callard and Fitzgerald, under contract), we
offer pragmatic advice on interdisciplinary interaction for collaborators
from all disciplines. But this article has a narrower remit: here, we inter-
vene in internal discussions, within the social sciences and humanities,
about possibilities for, and encouragement towards, collaboration with
the neurosciences. Our interest is in significantly expanding that conver-
sation: the article is aimed at scholars within those disciplines who have
some urge towards concrete engagement with the neurosciences, but who
remain unmoved by today’s arid rhetoric of ‘interdisciplinarity’. The
unabashedly programmatic aim of this article is to put pressure on the
usual ways in which such possibilities between the social sciences and the
neurosciences are understood (e.g. European Commission, 2011). Our
article sets out the core conceptual ground for the elaboration of an
alternative programme, paying particular attention to the ‘experiment’
as a space of intervention, and using ‘entanglement’ explicitly to depart
from logics of ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’.
3
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Why the Neurosciences?
Today, cognitive neuroscience
4
is frequently held up as the greatest intel-
lectual resource for the humanities and social sciences (Pinker, 2013) – or
the gravest intellectual threat (Tallis, 2011). This prominence is insepar-
able from the neuroscientific claim on the ‘space inside the skull’
(Beaulieu, 2000), that prized locus of so much interpretative scholarship.
If there is still much research to be done on the uneven historical and
geographical contours of neuroscientific authority, it remains undeniable
that many facets of human life that were, for much of the 20th century,
primarily understood through the abstractions of ‘culture’ or ‘society’ –
commercial and economic life, governance, historical change, identity,
distress and suffering – are increasingly understood as functions of the
cerebral architecture of individuals or of groups of individuals (for exam-
ples, see Adolphs, 2003; Camerer et al., 2005; Chiao, 2009; for reflections,
see Rose, 2010; Vrecko, 2010; Matusall, 2012).
There are many ways to respond to this social fact. We start, here,
from the realization that in a growing number of research areas, bio-
scientists, as Nikolas Rose maintains, increasingly characterize
living organisms as dynamic and complex systems, located in a
dimension of temporality and development, and constitutively
open to their milieu – a milieu that ranges in scale from the intra-
cellular to psychological, biographical, social and cultural. (2013: 5)
Indeed, and especially within the new brain sciences, it is clear that, just
as technologies have emerged to measure the workings of the central
nervous system in vivo, so is that system becoming conceptually insepar-
able from the social, cultural and familial contexts in which it developed:
biology, Maurizio Meloni points out, ‘has become porous to social and
even cultural signals to an unprecedented extent’ (2014: 2; cf. Bird, 2007;
Hyman, 2009; Niewo
¨hner, 2011). On the one hand, of course, this pre-
sents a significant opportunity for social scientists. As a recent Nature
editorial pointed out:
Sociologists have been studying human environments for decades,
and have tallied the social damage that stresses such as poverty or
child abuse can cause. Biologists are now in a position to benefit
from their insights. (Nature, 2012: 143)
If we are not bowled over by this description of what sociological labour
might offer, it seems indisputable that there is something important that
social scientists now ‘offer’ the life sciences. As Ilina Singh points out, the
‘emerging disintegration of the nature-nurture divide’ from within
the biosciences offers a new collaborative space for social scientists
Fitzgerald and Callard 7
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(2012: 316–17). And the neurosciences, especially, Rose and Abi-Rached
remind us, are currently ‘struggling towards a way of thinking in which
our corporeality is in constant transaction with its milieu’ (2013: 3). We
are in significant agreement with both the general claim that social sci-
ence has something to offer and that new forms of collaboration should
be risked in order to grasp these opportunities. But here we append two
further remarks.
First, there is a risk of these careful arguments being (mis)interpreted
as encouragement to leap faithfully into a newly socialized biology. But
we are painfully aware that the ‘social’ of a ‘social neuroscience’ is often a
rather mangy-looking beast – an animal quite alien to the rich and fat
understanding of a century-old anthropology or sociology (Matusall,
2012). We also worry about how ‘culture’ is commonly imagined as
just another input within a straightforwardly bioscientific schema, and
we know well that awkward questions remain about the epistemological
politics at stake within these generous-looking invitations (Choudhury
and Kirmayer, 2009; Young, 2012). We cannot ignore, as scholars trying
to make a space for our interests within a shrinking, instrumentalizing
academy, the shifts in scholarly prestige that surely guide, for example,
the increasingly-warm rapprochement between analytic philosophy and
cognitive neuroscience (e.g. Smith, 2012). We have squirmed our way
through too many ‘interdisciplinary’ meetings to remain innocent of
just how narrowly the world outside the skull sometimes gets figured
within these ‘biosocial’ narratives.
Second, and this is where our article finds much of its impetus, it has
not been easy to imagine or specify how these collaborations might be
enacted in practice. This is an intrinsically vexed question, and we offer
no simple solution here. As we will argue below, however, one way to
move the discussion forward is to think more creatively about experi-
ments. While we have been inspired by broad calls for social scientists
to take up new possibilities for collaboration, we have often been dis-
mayed by the narrow rhetorics and frameworks of interdisciplinarity
that seem to govern actual, real collaborative spaces beyond those calls.
And yet, at the same time, our collaborative imaginaries have consist-
ently been fired by experimental moments – admittedly often short,
contingent, serendipitous – that we have painstakingly sought, located
and nurtured within such spaces. There are, now, real opportunities for
collaboration between the social sciences and neurosciences. But these
opportunities are often occluded by the narrow discursive range of
contemporary ‘interdisciplinarity’. This article therefore draws attention
to some more experimental modes for re-imagining that space. Before
we elaborate on our own approach, we first distinguish it from the most
prominent modes through which the relationship between the social
sciences and the neurosciences has hitherto been understood.
5
In line
with our programmatic aim, we have distilled the core features of
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heterogeneous and expansive endeavours. We trust that the benefits of
clarity outweigh the risks of caricature.
Three Modes of Neuro-Engagement
Critique
6
Arguably the most common way of positioning the social sciences and
humanities in relation to cognitive neuroscience is to interpret their task
as the critique of neurobiological chauvinism. This mode uses the tools of
historical, social and cultural analysis as external methods to either: (1)
uncover unconscious or hidden biases within the new brain sciences, and
to locate nefarious social, political, economic and epistemic agendas
within them (e.g. Ortega and Vidal, 2007; Choudhury et al., 2009); or
(2) deflate particular neuroscientific trends or claims that have found
favour within the humanities or social sciences (e.g. Ashton, 2011;
Kramnick, 2011).
7
These engagements commonly lean on longstanding claims concerning
the fundamentally sociocultural nature of scientific (including neuroscien-
tific) knowledge (Pickering, 1992). The most compelling articulations of
this critique come from a trio of scholars and groups who have argued,
trenchantly, for the fundamentally sociocultural basis of the neuro-
reductionist urge (Martin, 2004, 2013), the political ill-effects of this
urge on our senses of self (Ortega and Vidal, 2007; Vidal, 2009), and
the need for the new brain sciences to be radically re-imagined
(Choudhury et al., 2009; Slaby and Choudhury, 2012). Emily Martin
was perhaps the first to identify the emergence of a cultural figure
whose levels ‘begin with molecules, but go no farther than the central
nervous system’ (2000: 574). Thus, Martin argues, ‘all of what anthro-
pologists call culture has drained through the hole and dissolved in the
realm of neural networks’ (2000: 576). Martin locates the cultural and
institutional desire for the ‘restraining force’ of this ‘ahistorical concrete
body’ in manifestly social developments: for example, in the need for a
reaction to the mania and wildness of fin de sie
`cle capitalism (2000: 576,
581), in psychiatric-expert attempts to ‘snare’ the ‘criteria of rationality’
and the ‘meaning of language’ (2004: 194) and in ‘contempt for anything
that limits the kind of commensurability that our markets and systems of
governance demand’ (2013: s157).
But there is a deeper point embedded here, and this is Martin’s argu-
ment for the ontological primacy of the sociocultural over the neurobio-
logical, in order to ‘detect the real prejudices hidden behind the
appearance of objective statements’ (Latour, 2004: 227). Fernando
Vidal, similarly, has argued that attempts to locate some organic and
naturalized account of the self in fact long precede the emergence of the
new brain sciences – that this is an ideology on to which neurobiology is
mapped post hoc: ‘the idea that “we are our brains” is not a corollary of
Fitzgerald and Callard 9
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neuroscientific advances, but a prerequisite of neuroscientific investiga-
tion’ (2009: 7). A related argument has been made by the exponents of
‘critical neuroscience’ (Choudhury et al., 2009; Choudhury and Slaby,
2012). The essence of this account, which is inspired by the Frankfurt
School,
8
is not to tear down neuroscience but to inculcate among
neuroscientists:
self-critical practices, which aim to achieve reflective awareness of
the standpoint-specific biases and constraints that enter into the
production, interpretive framing and subsequent application of neu-
roscientific knowledge. (Choudhury et al., 2009: 65)
In other words, neuroscience itself should be reformed as a critical
practice, and become aware of its own political and economic stand-
points. But neuroscience must also harness the ‘emancipatory potential’
for neuroscientific workers to reflexively labour upon the biases
embedded in their own practices (2009: 65). Once again, the point is to
understand ‘neuroscience itself as a cultural activity’ – to re-situate it
within a ‘social structure’ and re-formulate it as a practice run
through with economic drivers, political climates and cultural contexts
(2009: 62–4).
Such critiques are salutary reminders of the need to devote analytical
attention to the ‘logic of the neuroindustry’ – and there are resonances
between our proposal and some of the more pragmatic steps proposed by
scholars in this tradition (Slaby and Choudhury, 2012). But the stance of
critique tends too readily to wield the master term ‘reductionistic’ to
characterize both neuroscience’s own knowledges and its effect on
other disciplines (e.g. Kirmayer and Gold, 2012). In fact, an insistence
on ‘reduction’ renders much of what is most analytically interesting
about neuroscience – including its relationship to other domains, and
how those relationships might be re-imagined – invisible. One central
example comprises the fascinating and novels ways in which ‘culture’
and ‘neurobiology’ are drawn together, and how bodies and cultures
have become experimentally legible in one another (e.g. Lende and
Downey, 2012: 23). In fact, relations between metabolic brain processes,
sociocultural environments and ‘mental processes’ are being repeatedly
experimentally re-adjudicated in cognitive neuroscience. And this is just
one instance of the uneven and creative ways in which the dynamic rela-
tionship ‘between’ – though that is not quite the right adjective – the
‘neurobiological’ and the ‘cultural’ is kept in play (Callard and
Margulies, 2011).
Where we most significantly depart from colleagues in the critical
tradition is in our refusal to cede ontological primacy to the sociocultural
within this terrain, certainly in light of the far-reaching theoretical chal-
lenges that have been launched at such a premise (Whitehead, 1964;
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Haraway, 1991; Braidotti, 2006). Interestingly, the critical literature often
perfectly well sees, but then usually scotomizes, the complexity and
subtlety of the new brain sciences – missing, in particular, how they
think through, and work on, the tangled imbrication of bodies, brains,
minds, subjectivities, lives and machines. Kelly Joyce, for example, draws
on a powerful image from Elizabeth Grosz (1994) to suggest that MRI
images ‘“etch together” local decisions and priorities, technology, and
aspects of the physical body to produce what is perceived as cutting-edge,
authoritative knowledge’ (Joyce, 2008: 70). But what gets missed in
Joyce’s desire to show that ‘there is nothing natural or inevitable’
about MRI is precisely the intellectual force of a science that can ‘etch
together’ local politics, de-oxygenated blood, sick bodies, nuclear phys-
ics, and the clinical gaze to produce what for many is a convincing image
of a person, and a body (2008: 20).
Ebullience
If much neuro-critique is built on a presumption of the ontological pri-
macy of ‘culture’, then the ‘ebullient’ mode tends to take experimental
results and theoretical statements from the neurosciences as more-or-less
true – with little contest or context, and in the absence of a sense of the
wider, often fierce, epistemological and ontological debates within those
sciences. As Papoulias and Callard (2010) have argued, the emergence of
what is commonly now known as ‘affect theory’ within cultural studies
has often been the ground for such enthusiasm. Here, many social and
cultural theorists rest accounts of the dynamic inter-relations between
cultural theory and neuroscientific fact via skilled and lengthy attention
to the former – and surprisingly thin, often naı
¨ve, summaries of the
latter.
Strikingly, many ebullient engagements with the neurosciences from
humanists and social scientists barely stray further than scientists’
‘crossover’ publications for lay audiences (here, Damasio’s volumes
(2000, 2004, 2006) are highly favoured) – evidence of the strangely
credulous and limited reading practices of those who accrue intellec-
tual capital precisely for the acuity and breadth of their reading. The
philosopher Catherine Malabou, for example, has provided one of the
most provocative and renowned accounts of how current research in
the life sciences (and particularly the neurosciences) pushes beyond
post-Husserlian conceptualizations of subjectivity in Continental phil-
osophy (2008, 2012; Johnston and Malabou, 2013). Central to
Malabou’s argument is her conviction that current neurobiology
effects wide-ranging transformations in understandings of affect, pro-
ducing a more radical challenge to conceptualizations of subjectivity
than those articulated by deconstruction and psychoanalysis: ‘Current
Fitzgerald and Callard 11
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neurobiology is engaged in a deep redefinition of emotional life’,
Malabou argues:
The brain, far from being a nonsensuous organ, devoted solely to
logical and cognitive processes, now appears ...to be the center of a
new libidinal economy ....A new conception of affects is undoubt-
edly emerging. (Johnston and Malabou, 2013: 3)
But this authoritative characterization concerning the huge and hetero-
geneous field of neurobiology is founded almost entirely on Malabou’s
enthusiastic reading of a very select number of scientists who have pub-
lished for a general audience. And while Malabou’s monograph The New
Wounded (2012) is full of acute and contrapuntal readings of Freud, her
engagements with the neurosciences are largely restricted to adulatory
reiterations of sentences from Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux and
Oliver Sacks. In developing our own formulations about our relations
with the neurosciences, we have gained much from the audacity of
Malabou’s forays. But what we miss in her publications is a strong
sense of scientific nuance and breadth: Malabou’s monographs demon-
strate limited engagement with peer-reviewed scientific publications, with
internal criticisms of Damasio, and with histories of science – any one of
which might provide a thicker, more adhesive texture for claims regard-
ing a field’s ‘deep redefinitions’ and the challenges these pose to theor-
izations from the humanities.
Or consider Brian Massumi’s influential essay, ‘The Autonomy of
Affect’, which aimed to provincialize a reliance on signification and lan-
guage in cultural theory by drawing attention to the ‘dynamism’ of the
neurological sciences (1996: 100). As we have ourselves become more
intimately involved with experimental spaces, it strikes us that the neuro-
science that emerges through Massumi’s account is, in contrast, not at all
dynamic, or flexible, or even very interesting. Neuroscience is in fact
figured by Massumi as lumpen, univocal, and tediously certain.
Moreover, the science on which Massumi’s theoretical claims rests
makes startlingly brief appearances – accurately characterized by Ruth
Leys as a ‘strategic’ and ‘fleeting’ service for Massumi’s ‘rather opaque
philosophical-speculative reflections’ (Leys, 2011).
‘The manner in which “science” is often invoked in cultural theory
texts’, Papoulias and Callard point out, ‘testiEes to a desire for a certain
kind of revelation that science will be able to satisfy’ (2010: 36–7; see also
Barnett, 2008). Authors in the ebullient tradition, in their desire to des-
ignate generative spaces for the mingling of biology and culture, unin-
tentionally foreclose the space for a dynamic and mutually constitutive
traffic across them; they are much too willing to assign to the natural and
experimental sciences the task of generating the findings that will con-
firm, verify and/or reveal the theoretical insights of cultural and
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social theory. If this mode of engagement with neuroscience is character-
ized by ebullience towards its desired objects and partners, it tends to
remain demurely secluded from the hubbub of experimentation itself.
Interaction
A relatively small group of scholars has, in recent years, begun to under-
take the rather thankless task of locating a conceptual space between the
social sciences and the neurosciences – while resisting the attention-grab-
bing rhetorics of critique or ebullience. What we term the ‘interactive
mode’ is characterized neither by a desire to provincialize the pretensions
of the neurosciences nor by an uncritical acceptance of insights from
those spaces. Instead, scholars focus on research on humans’ neuro-
logical propensities but, crucially, they also maintain an epistemic
parity between this research and the traditions and paradigms of the
interpretative and social sciences. These works grant the same kind of
sustained and critical attention to neurology and neurobiology as they do
to the interpretative social sciences. They read, in the neurosciences, a
complementary desire for mutuality, and a willingness to allow insights
from sociocultural theory to fold back onto neuroscientific research; in so
doing they strive for a neurobiology that might help to develop different
kinds of theories about the contemporary figure of the human as such.
In Neuro, for example, Nikolas Rose and Joelle Abi-Rached argue
that new styles of thought emergent in neuroscience:
offer the possibilities of a more positive role for the human and
social sciences, an opportunity to seize on the new openness pro-
vided by conceptions of the neuromolecular, plastic, and social
brain, and to move beyond critique and find some rapprochement.
(2013: 24)
Such a rapprochement, they argue, may even contribute to a new kind of
progressive thought – refusing an account of human societies as com-
posed of maximizing, individual organisms, or of governmental modes
designed to regulate such organisms (2013: 234). ‘At their most sophis-
ticated’, Rose and Abi-Rached suggest, ‘[the neurosciences] are strug-
gling towards a way of thinking in which our corporeality is in
constant transaction with its milieu, and the biological and the social
are not distinct but inter-twined’ (2013: 3). Other scholars in the inter-
active mode have tried to mobilize such transactions: Andreas Roepstorff
(2001), for example, has used his dual identity as a brain-imager and a
cultural anthropologist to revive the animalistic, world-experiencing ‘bio-
philosophy’ of Jacob von Uexku
¨ll, and has argued (Roepstorff et al.,
2010) that re-thinking forms of social interaction as ‘patterned practices’
might operationalize the entanglement of cultural and neural networks.
9
Fitzgerald and Callard 13
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Another sustained attempt to re-calibrate relations between the neural
and the sociocultural has been made by Elizabeth Wilson (1998, 2004a,
2004b, 2010, 2011), whose broad project works the neurological into
feminist accounts of the body, and to feminist theory more generally.
In tandem with other accounts that have mobilized scientific literatures
to explore and conceptualize affective relationality (Sedgwick, 2003;
Blackman, 2008), Wilson’s cultural-theoretical project pursues a min-
gling with neurology in terms of the ‘potential in the neurosciences for
reinvention and transformation’ (2004a: 13). She argues that, between
psychology and neurology, ‘forces of influence and determination are
more mutually entangled than the critics of neurological determinism
have hitherto acknowledged’ (2004a: 16). In the circuit of body,
psyche, and environment, we do not find a relationship of simple caus-
ation but rather ‘a system of mutual constitution from which no particu-
lar element emerges as the originary, predetermining term’ (2004a: 19).
Thus: ‘neurological material is more confident, flexible, resilient, and
assertive than many critics have yet acknowledged’ (2004a: 22). This,
on Wilson’s account, is what socio-critique prevents us from seeing:
‘by disconnecting biology from its constitutive relations with other onto-
logical systems’, she argues, ‘biology becomes isolated and destitute’
(2004a: 70).
Our project of experimental entanglement is indebted to this stance.
Following Rose, we are in pursuit of ‘an affirmative relationship’ with an
emerging ‘new and non-reductive biology of human beings and other
organisms in their milieu, ... which can thus be brought into conversa-
tion with ...the social and human sciences’ (2013: 24). With Wilson, we
seek a neuroscience that ‘may ...be a resource for theoretical endeavour,
rather than the dangerous and inert substance against which criticism
launches itself’ (Wilson, 2004a: 29; cf. Stafford in Turnbull, 2007: 347).
The work that remains, then, is to think about how such insights can be
realized in empirical projects, or how they can be more concretely situ-
ated within a more expansive research practice. While we are hardly the
first to pursue this question, our experience is that when similar pro-
grammes are moved onto a more empirical terrain, the core insights of
the interactionist mode have been hard to maintain. Too frequently, soft
boundaries between social and neural are maintained through a model of
disciplinary partnership (e.g. Lende and Downey, 2012); the biosocial
nexus starts to look distinctly bio-centric (e.g. Chiao, 2009); the empirical
project distances itself from (and thus struggles to move) the core con-
cerns of sociocultural knowledge (e.g. Roepstorff and Frith, 2012); or the
disciplinary ‘role’ that each intellectual party plays in the programme
becomes solidified, such that the possibilities for folding insights across
epistemological domains are reduced (e.g. Sambo et al., 2010). We see a
gap, then, in which the final step is not yet enacted in practice or where
there tends to be a limited working-through of the dynamic complexity of
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the ontological and epistemological reshufflings that might be enacted
through such practice. It might, indeed, be such an absence that has
allowed the more critical and ebullient voices to dominate the debate
within the social sciences.
The Regime of the Inter-
The modes of ‘critique’ and of ‘ebullience’ seem to sit at opposite ends of
the spectrum. But we suggest that they are animated by a shared com-
mitment – namely, that the sociocultural and the neural are different
domains of knowledge, and that they address themselves to different
kinds of objects, or to different aspects of objects. For the critic, a com-
mitment to this divide between the sociocultural and the neural means
defending the boundary-points, and re-asserting the strict differences
between the two areas.
10
For the enthusiast, the divide describes instead
a hierarchized division of labour – and a willingness to render unto the
neurosciences what is truly neuroscientific. But if the critic and the enthu-
siast are very different from one another, they share the most important
commitment: namely, that there are things, and ways of knowing things,
that are sociocultural; and there are things, and ways of knowing things,
that are not. The only difference is that the critic insists that this is how it
should be, whereas the enthusiast would rather redraw where the line
falls, in acquiescence to new neuroscientific knowledge about (what were
previously thought of as) sociocultural preoccupations. But this is a triv-
ial distinction. The existence and salience of what is really important here
– the dividing-line itself – is never in question. Slaby and Choudhury, for
example, place ‘particular emphasis on the social’ in the face of a fash-
ionable and shallow ‘ontological hybridization’ (2012: 36–7). Von
Scheve, by contrast, calls on sociologists to attend to ‘actual neuroscien-
tific findings’ (2012: 256). But for each of them, there is a thing called
social science that addresses itself to one kind of object; and there is a
thing called neuroscience that addresses itself to another. The only con-
troversy is about whether current flirtations between the two should be
consummated. This debate thus operates entirely within an unques-
tioned, shared space, which we call ‘the regime of the inter-’.
The ‘regime of the inter-’ refers all analysis about the space between
the social sciences and the neurosciences to a guiding question: given that
there is the possibility of overlapping interests and objects between these
sciences, then how large should that space of overlap be, how should it be
populated, what kinds of objects should be located within it, and what
should count as a sufficiently ecumenical research programme to address
those objects? But this regime excludes consideration of the history, top-
ology, and salience of that space as such; about the border-practices that
bind it; and about how even the very conjunction ‘between’ forecloses
other ways of conceptualizing its characteristics, and the relationalities
Fitzgerald and Callard 15
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comprising it. Moreover, we contend that this regime governs most – if
not all – of the institutional spaces that lay claim on what is seen as the
growing need for interdisciplinary labour between the neurobiological
sciences, and the social sciences and humanities.
11
Our intimacy over a
number of years with a number of these explicitly designated ‘interdis-
ciplinary’ spaces has strengthened our conviction that their governing
ethic of epistemological seclusion (of the social sciences/humanities
from the neurosciences, and vice versa) is a recalcitrant fantasy – one
premised on a sanitized history of disciplinary domains, of the frequent
intimacies that have enjoined them, and of their respective objects of
study (for alternative genealogies, see Donzelot, 1988; Renwick, 2012;
Rose, 2013). In this regime, certain visions of territory – along with the
corollary concepts of borders, incursions, and empire-building – tend to
loom large. In contrast, our proposal takes for granted the conceptual,
methodological and terminological crossings – admittedly often forgot-
ten, often fugitive – that have long tacked back-and-forth between (and
within) the domains of the sociocultural, the psychological and the
neural, and that have been variously distributed within and across so-
called ‘disciplinary divides’. We think, for example, of the genetic (and
eugenic) history of early British social science (Osborne and Rose, 2008),
of the presence of non-human animals in a developing sociology
(Shearmur, 2013), or of the deeply uncanny biology bound within long
strands of 20th-century psychoanalysis (Laplanche, 1989). Our interest,
as both subjects and analysts of an emerging neurobiological age, lies in
understanding how social scientists might best employ and re-energize
that rich archive of crossings. We want to know how they – we! – might
forge different and unexpected relations, whether intellectual, methodo-
logical, or affective, with the neurosciences.
Our proposal thus sets itself against the ‘regime of the inter-’.
‘Experimental entanglements’ start in media res, where there are neither
neatly bordered disciplines nor any clear dispensation regarding which
‘objects’ of study are appropriate for each. Our gambit is that if a dif-
ferent sociocultural research practice – one that attempts to do epistemic
and ontological justice to the fertile crossings between the so-called
‘social’ and the ‘biological’ – is to achieve any kind of epistemic force
in the decades to come, then at least some of that force may come via
recourse to a form of knowledge production that is, in fact, already
aware of the potency of these exchanges: cognitive neuroscientific
experiments.
Experimental Entanglements
Experiment: Entangled
At least since Ian Hacking’s Representing and Intervening (1983),
scholars have addressed experiment and experimentation as complex,
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knowledge-producing phenomena in their own right, rather than simple
accomplices of scientific theory (cf. Galison, 1987; Gooding et al., 1989;
Davies, 2010). Some of the most compelling research in the history of
science has indicated that if we want to understand, or, indeed, help
foment, the formation of new knowledge-practices, we should not – as
much discourse under the ‘regime of the inter’ does – focus our gaze at
the scale of disciplines or paradigms. Rather, we should, as the historian
of science Hans-Jo
¨rg Rheinberger has demonstrated in his work on
modern experimental systems, be alert to:
the digressions and transgressions of smaller research units
below the level of disciplines, in which knowledge has not yet
become labeled and classified, and in which new forms of know-
ledge can take shape at any time ...novelties generated in one
system can quickly spread and create effects at other places.
(2011: 315)
With Rheinberger, we direct attention to spaces of experimentation in
which the intersections between scientific ‘objects’, instruments, appara-
tuses and experimenters still quiver with uncertainty – where the liveli-
ness of experimentation has not yet been stilled by epistemological
resolution. A living experimental system, Rheinberger argues, has
more stories to tell than the experimenter at a given moment is trying
to tell with it’ (1994: 77–8). Because such a system still holds ‘excess’
within itself, it ‘contain[s] remnants of older narratives as well as frag-
ments of narratives that have not yet been told’ (p. 78).
This account of excess underpins our argument for turning to experi-
ment in cognitive neuroscience. One of the distinguishing characteristics
of the contemporary neurosciences is that, because of the still-recent
emergence of novel methods and sub-disciplines affiliated to this area,
as well as their ongoing shuffling and realignment, core methods and
assumptions have still not been entirely ossified (Abi-Rached, 2008).
Certainly, this is subject to change, and some procedures and constructs
– for example the relation between the BOLD (Blood Oxygenation Level
Dependent) signal, which fMRI picks up, and brain activity – have over
time been ‘black-boxed’ in a Latourian (1999) sense. But our collabor-
ations with neuroscientists have consistently thrown up instances in
which our collaborators were already deeply preoccupied with which of
many methods to employ, how best to instruct research subjects, how to
understand the relation between subject and researcher, how to oper-
ationalize constructs (e.g. Filevich et al., 2013), and so on. Cognitive
neuroscience is thus a field in which many experimental systems are
(still) in motion (e.g. Le Bihan et al., 2001, Neurocritic, 2012; Callard
and Margulies, 2011). It is not a desire for control that undergirds our
positive turn to experiment. Quite the opposite: we are compelled by the
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promise of digressions, transgressions, mistakes and the subterranean
existence of not-as-yet-played-out narratives.
A core goal of ‘experimental entanglements’ is to intensify the energies
already within these experimental systems by seeding research projects
and centres with researchers carrying heterogeneous modes of practice
from the social sciences and humanities. We wish to do so because we
want to magnify the productive untidiness, and temporal out-of-jointed-
ness of those systems. An expansion in styles of taking measurements,
using instruments, engaging with research subjects and tinkering with
protocols might just help both to render and expose new biosocial stories
(Rheinberger, 2010: 218–19). Of course we are not naı
¨ve about how
unevenly epistemic and institutional authority is likely to be distributed
across such entanglements, and we do not elide the unequal dynamics of
power and prestige here. Nor do we pretend that the desire to rethink
paradigms, and to tinker with protocols, is likely to be as strong for
neuroscientists en masse as it might well be for collaborating social sci-
entists. We have no fantasy of parity here – nor do we assume that the
most congenial and democratic spaces are always the most interesting or
productive (Fitzgerald et al., 2014). We remain sanguine – we have no
choice to act otherwise – about the likelihood of an experimental
entanglement resulting in entropy, frustration, or failure.
‘Experimental entanglements’ are modest, often awkward, typically
unequal encounters that work to mobilize specific and often serendipit-
ous moments of potential novelty in and outside the laboratory. These
moments might reside in the methods chosen, the conduct of the experi-
ment itself, the theoretical armature that surrounds it – or the roles that
researchers play within the experiment, its analysis, and in its dissemin-
ation. ‘Experimental entanglements’ refuse preliminary decisions about
the shape or outcome of such an interaction: they denote an ad hoc
process of shuffling histories, methods, and assumptions from the
social sciences and humanities through such partial moments, and of
picking through the scraps of knowledge and thought produced by the
subsequent torsion. Our ‘entanglements’ are thus never not temporary,
local assemblages of motivation, interest, people and machinery – in
which we, and our collaborators, are able momentarily to think some-
thing exterior to both the conventions of experimental practice, and the
taken-for-granted dynamics of epistemic power that underwrite its con-
duct. This vision of being entangled is something very different from calls
for neuroscientists to develop ‘second-order observations of laboratory
conditions, communities of scientists, and historical and cultural contin-
gencies’ (Slaby and Choudhury, 2012: 42). Our model, through its
attention to untidiness, excess and chance, strives to avoid such pre-
determined demands for reflexive practice from either side. Instead, we
seek the entanglement of researchers, instruments, writing practices, dis-
courses, observations, archives, bodies, topologies, and, in general,
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accounts of what that opaque object of neuroscientific research, around
which all of these circle, just might be (Figure 1).
On such a model, our own knowledge practices will also, of course, be
bound up with specific entanglements of context, thought and affect.
Attending to experiment demands attending to how the bodies, gestures
and feelings of individual researchers are registers and generators of
positive knowledge. Natasha Myers, in her ethnography of experimental
manoeuvres within molecular biology, has described how scientists’
bodily contortions can help to ‘render’ the objects of research; using
the body, she argues, ‘can generate both new forms of knowing, and
the things known’ (Myers, 2012: 172, 161; cf. Fitzgerald, 2013). We
draw particular attention to this quality because one of the most poten-
tially fertile attributes of many cognitive neuroscientific experiments
is the dynamism enabled by the fact that there are commonly at
least two minds and bodies – that of the experimenter and that of the
experimental subject – built into the experimental assemblage. What
we might call ‘the inter-subjective’ is always already instantiated in
both the practice and the data of cognitive neuroscience – although
this is rarely explicitly recognized in canonical texts (see e.g.
Frackowiak et al., 2004; cf. Schilbach et al., 2013). Such entanglements
pose multiple trajectories for novel inquiry: who or what is the instru-
ment? Who or what probes whom or what? Who or what yields data?
How are relations of influence and connection between experimenter and
experimental subject imagined, materialized, felt, and traced out? Such
combinatorial possibilities offer germs through which new forms of
knowledge might emerge.
Entanglement: Experimentalized
We have argued that it is increasingly difficult for the social sciences to
maintain a potent hold on the expansive category of ‘human life’ while
remaining indifferent to the complex neurogenetic textures of human
capability. But while there is good reason, then, to cease the hygienic
practices of many of the mainstream ‘social’ sciences (Goodman, 2013),
no new epistemic model has yet emerged to express this possibility. In
promoting a return to experiment, we contend that the laboratory spaces
of the new brain sciences offer hitherto under-used fora to draw out the
tangled biological and sociocultural processes of human life. We situate
the cognitive neuroscientific experiment – understood as a tumbling and
uncertain mode of knowledge-production – as one possible space in
which both to register and to interpret these processes.
We draw inspiration from the work of feminist philosopher Karen
Barad (2007) and her insight that sustainable and more-or-less bounded
ways of producing knowledge might in fact come after – and not before –
awkward mixtures of knowledge and material. Two features of Barad’s
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recent work give energy to our proposal. First, her account of an ‘agen-
tial realism’ attempts to think a constitutive relationship between the
mess and ambiguity of entanglement, and the confounding possibility
of distinction or singularity – with the latter coming after entanglement,
and not before. Thus Barad’s approach:
does not take separateness to be an inherent feature of how the
world is. But neither does it denigrate separateness as mere illu-
sion ...relations do not follow relata, but the other way around.
(2007: 136–7)
Barad argues instead for a metaphysics based on ‘phenomena’ – a term
that designates both ‘the ontological inseparability/entanglement of intra-
acting agencies’ and the ‘primary ontological units’ of the world (Barad,
2007: 139–41; cf. Marres, 2012). That the inseparability of agencies does
not mitigate against ‘determinate boundaries and properties of “entities”
within phenomena’ is crucial for our account of ‘experimental entangle-
ment’ (Barad, 2007: 148). Perhaps counter-intuitively, our approach
wishes to similarly preserve both the fundamental inseparability of the
biological and the sociocultural, and the possibility of a subsequent cut.
If we refuse to position neuroscientific experiments as bounded or con-
trolled spaces, we do not regard them as doomed to a morass of uncer-
tainty. While we wish to affirm the ontological and methodological ‘mess’
of any neuroscientific experiment, we also contend that such experiments
are able to produce meaningful knowledge about the biosocial complex-
ities of human life.
Second, Barad refuses to separate the practice of science from the
practice of studying science from the outside: ‘the tradition in science
studies’, she points out, ‘is to position oneself at some remove, to reflect
on the nature of scientific practice as a spectator’ (2007: 247). Barad
invites us instead to think about the ways in which insights about the
so-called ‘social context’ of science might also be intrinsic to the scientific
practices in question (2007: 247). She posits a mode of engagement in
which an ‘understanding of the entangled co-emergence of “social” and
“natural” (and other important co-constituted) factors might best come
from ‘engaging in practices we call “science studies” together with prac-
tices we call “science”’ (2011: 446).
With these two interventions, Barad proposes a radically different
programme for sociocultural attention to, and ‘engagement with’, the
natural sciences. In particular, she departs from modes of interdisciplin-
ary engagement, which, as with all modes governed by the ‘regime of the
inter-’, are premised on a recognition of the solidity of disciplinary bor-
derlands (however deeply either envisages trade and exchange across
those boundaries; see Galison, 1997; Thompson Klein, 2010). Our
‘experimental entanglements’ follow Barad in their insistence that
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neurobiological knowledge is a product of, and not a precursor to, dis-
ciplinary transaction – that the complex intersections of social and bio-
logical agencies come prior to, for example, the kind of agential cut that
critical neuroscience insists on maintaining. Indeed, in a formal sense,
introducing ‘critique’ and ‘context’ really does pollute the neuroscientific
experiment – but precisely because this insistence reduces entangled com-
plexity to a series of distinctive and competing perspectives.
There are costs to taking this position seriously – as we do. In par-
ticular, because Barad’s conception of entanglement insists on the onto-
logical priority of intersection, it becomes methodologically fruitless, in
the kinds of experiment we envisage, to delineate distinct tasks, inputs
and divisions of labour for ‘social scientists’ and ‘neuroscientists’ in
advance. It is not a commitment to obscurantism that makes us resistant
to clearly setting out, for example, ‘who’ might do ‘what’ within an
‘experimental entanglement’. Rather, we maintain that ideas about
‘who’ and ‘what’ must remain in play when we proceed on the assump-
tion that entanglements – of bodies, epistemologies, apparatuses, elem-
ents of experimental systems, operationalizations of terms – might
produce something new in the world, even as the forms that that newness
might take are undecided, and undecidable, prior to the moment of
experimentation (for example, see Figure 2).
We are insistent that this suggestion is not opposed to the ethic and
ethos of experiment as such (e.g. see Donna Haraway’s (1997) ‘modest’
Figure 1. The neural correlates of deception: Imaging, history, context and feeling.
Fitzgerald and Callard 21
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modes of engaging experimental spaces). Roepstorff and Frith, for exam-
ple, in their reflections on neuroanthropology, direct attention to the
experimental itself, as a productive object to think with: experimentalism,
they point out, is ‘a complicated practice, a bricolage tinkering with the
possible elements (Pickering, 1995) to make things work’ (2012: 103).
Thus, experiments do not – and are not supposed to – settle matters:
an experiment in neuroimaging, no less than the much-analysed space of
anthropological fieldwork, is variously intimate, awkward, lonely and
boring; the generation of facts from data, in the neuroscientific labora-
tory, has never not been painful, messy, unsatisfying, and contingent.
With this in mind, Roepstorff and Frith encourage us to regard the
‘experiment’ not as a nitty-gritty, world-testing, fact-producing machine,
but as a performance – and thus potentially as a risky, more avant-garde
space. They describe this as an ‘aesthetics of research practice’, a mode of
engagement in which the neuroimaging experiment becomes something
akin to ‘trying out new ways of writing, new ways of being in the field, or
novel forms of intervention’ (2012: 105). And they suggest that it is a
form of aesthetic attention that allows the social scientist to take some
kind of experimental rubric into her fieldwork. We linger on this
Figure 2. Experimenting with ‘rest’ in fMRI research.
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description because we, too, are committed to using the experimental
mode to rethink the ways in which relations across the social sciences
and neurosciences are imagined and materialized. Our aesthetics of
experiment fixes attention on the capacity of experimental intervention
to unfold, to ally itself with, and then to elaborate upon, the deter-
minedly entangled nature of human subjectivity.
Conclusion
We asked, at the start of this article, what might happen if we set aside
our usual disciplinary allegiances and identifications to think more
experimentally about the constitution and dynamics of the cognitive-
neuroscientific-experimental domain. Our question was driven by our
weariness with what we have described as the ‘regime of the inter-’: a
regime which, we believe, has not only too frequently resulted in social
scientists either clapping or barking at the neurosciences, but has com-
mandeered both the imaginative and institutional space through which
engagements ‘between’ the social sciences and the neurosciences might be
envisaged. Our urge to disrupt this regime is motivated by our desire to
move beyond the etiolated and benumbed visions of experiment and
experimentation that, too commonly, are proffered under it.
The founding principle of an experimental entanglement is that it is
‘discipline’ that needs explanation, not promiscuity. What might be ima-
gined as a securely ‘cultural’ or ‘social’ knowledge is a product of collab-
oration with the biological (and other) sciences: it is not a precursor to
that collaboration. Our use of the term entanglement thus signals our
growing suspicion that the central epistemological and institutional prob-
lem is not one of whether, or to what degree, disciplinary and epistemic
boundaries might be crossed. The pressing question, it seems to us, is
how, as human scientists, we are to produce knowledge amid a growing
realization that those boundaries are pasted across objects which are
quite indifferent to a bureaucratic division between disciplines; and
that scholars and researchers of all stripes invariably attend to, and
live among, objects whose emergence, growth, development, action,
and disappearance do not at all admit of neat cuts between the biological
and the social, or between the cerebral and the cultural.
The labours of experimentation are frequently onerous and fruitless.
And this has been as evident to some scholars in the humanities and
social scientists – where there is also, of course, a rich legacy of experi-
ment and experimentation (e.g. Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Clough,
2000) – as it doubtless is to many practising cognitive neuroscientists.
But those labours can also yield unexpected harvests. We have argued
that the cognitive neuroscientific experiment – understood as a kind of
narrative excess, interpreted as an aesthetics, and approached with intel-
lectual modesty – might be a space in which richer elaborations of human
Fitzgerald and Callard 23
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subjectivity might materialize than is commonly imagined. This is not a
demand that the sociocultural and interpretative sciences ‘reduce’ them-
selves to the manipulation of laboratory apparatuses: ours is not a fan-
tasy in which hordes of social scientists are re-directed from libraries and
offices to the neuroimaging scanners in the basements. But it is a call for a
more expansive imaginary of what experiment – as practice and ethos –
offers to practitioners within those disciplines. Our suggestion is that it
might offer a moment in which some elements of the biosocial entangle-
ment of human life are centrally at stake, and in which they might be
brought into some kind of richer understanding. We have many more
suggestions for what those moments might look like in practice (Callard
and Fitzgerald, under contract). This article establishes some of the core
theoretical ground for our having made that move; it must end as an
invitation to the interested reader to step outside the ‘regime of the inter-’
and begin to trace her own trajectories of entanglement.
Acknowledgements
We thank audiences at Birmingham University and Goldsmiths, University of London,
for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. Six anonymous peer reviews
from TCS not only helped us to strengthen and clarify our arguments but, gathered
together, made clear to us the ongoing challenge and value of writing for audiences
with very different understandings of both the disciplinary and the interdisciplinary.
We are particularly grateful to Simone Ku
¨hn and to Daniel Margulies, two of our
neuroscientific collaborators, who have been central to the development of our thinking
vis-a
`-vis ‘experimental entanglements’. We also thank Suparna Choudhury and Jan
Slaby, the architects of critical neuroscience, for many invigorating conversations
about relations between the humanities, social sciences and neurosciences. We have
benefitted from the contributions of attendees and presenters at the workshop on
‘Experimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience’, supported by the
Volkswagen Foundation, which we co-organized at the Max Planck Institute for
Human Development, Berlin, in October 2012. We are especially grateful to the
Wellcome Trust (grant details below) for enabling us to make this article Open Access.
None of the aforementioned people or organizations is in any way responsible for the
arguments we present here.
Notes
This article was completed while DF was funded by an Interacting Minds Centre
project on Neuroscientific Evidence, at Aarhus University (Denmark), and by
an ESRC (UK) Transformative grant on ‘A New Sociology for a New Century’
(ES/L003074/1). FC’s research for this article has been supported by two
Wellcome Trust Strategic Awards to Durham University (WT086049 and
WT098455MA). Both DF and FC also gratefully acknowledge an award from
the Volkswagen Foundation’s Second European Platform for Life Sciences,
Mind Sciences and Humanities, which funded a workshop on ‘Experimental
Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience’.
24 Theory, Culture & Society 32(1)
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1. Note that ‘webs of human social and cultural life’ have been figured quanti-
tatively and ‘scientifically’ in several social science disciplines for some time –
not least in the archaeological and geographical sciences. Here, however, we
address ourselves to those parts of the social sciences and humanities whose
intellectual roots are in the emergence of the ‘social’ and/or ‘cultural’ as a
distinct object of knowledge, and within which, tentative, empirically-focused
turns towards biology have not been met with alacrity. See Donzelot (1988),
Rose (1991), and Latour (2005).
2. Historians of science, sociologists and researchers in science and technology
studies (STS) have taken ‘experimental labour’ as an object of study; we want
here to explore how cognitive neuroscientific experimentation might be a
methodological and epistemological resource for social scientists and human-
ists. We are indebted to (and expand upon) some recent exceptions to the
general disregard for this question, such as Nikoleyczik’s ‘multidimensional’
and ‘integrative’ approach (2012); see also Bluhm et al. (2012), and
Roepstorff and Frith’s (2012) ethic of conceptual ‘front-loading’.
3. This article draws on our many years of separate and conjoined engagement
with interdisciplinary neurobiological-sociocultural experimentation. What
we here name as ‘experimental entanglement’ theorizes our longstanding frus-
tration with the ‘interdisciplinary’ approaches that dominated these engage-
ments. Here, we articulate the conceptual ground that lies beneath this
frustration; more detailed case analyses of some of the ‘entanglements’ that
we have helped to initiate are provided in Callard and Fitzgerald (under
contract).
4. In this article, we move between the ‘neurosciences’ and ‘cognitive neurosci-
ence’. The neurosciences incorporate a huge range of methods and foci that
encompass molecular, cellular, developmental, structural, functional, evolu-
tionary and computational studies of the brain in its ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’
states (see Rees and Rose, 2004, or Abi-Rached, 2008). It is most commonly
cognitive neuroscience that is the focus of attention in the social sciences and
humanities.
5. Some social scientific (and humanist) research, in approaching the neurosci-
ences as an object of historical and/or sociological study, does not neatly fall
into any of the three modes we delineate below. In this article, we are inter-
ested in social scientific scholarship that does not simply take the neurosci-
ences as an object of study, but rather addresses how the growth in the
neurosciences poses questions vis-a
`-vis how the social sciences might or
should respond to this.
6. The concept of critique of course has great semantic density as well as a
complex genealogy, as De Boer and Sonderegger (2012) demonstrate.
7. Some deflationary accounts leave open space for what they think might be
more productive ‘interdisciplinary ventures between the humanities and the
sciences’ (Kramnick, 2011), but they tend, overall, not to be interested in the
mechanics of such ventures.
8. Slaby and Choudhury argue, specifically, that:
While critical neuroscience does not directly follow a Frankfurt
School program ...it does share with it a spirit of historico-
political mission; that is, the persuasion that scientific inquiry
Fitzgerald and Callard 25
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into human reality tends to mobilize specific values and often
works in the service of interests that can easily shape construals
of nature or naturalness. These notions of nature or of what counts
as natural ...require unpacking. Without critical reflection, they
appear as inevitable givens, universal and below history, and are
often seen as a form of ‘normative facticity,’ making specific claims
upon us in everyday life. (2012: 29)
9. Of course, the interactive mode, too, has a history – not least a history of
transdisciplinary scholars, or those working in formative moments for their
disciplines, who thought the experimental relationship between social life,
psychological life, and the brain. Particularly noteworthy here are the works
of, for example, Kurt Lewin (1947) and Kurt Goldstein (2000 [1939]).
10. For example, see the concluding comments of Ashton (2011), a literary
theorist, in her critique of neuroaesthetics:
This essay argues for why we should not just be delighted with the
[neuroaesthetic] results, or rather, why we can’t be delighted with
the results and still maintain a coherent account of what we’re
doing when we’re doing the interpretive work of literary or art
history and criticism .... Neuroaesthetics is answering a set of ques-
tions about causes, while the interpretation of a work of art
depends on having answers about its meaning.
11. See, for example, documents on the European Commission’s unfolding
‘Horizon 2020’ research and innovation programme, which argues that:
Radical breakthroughs with a transformative impact increasingly
rely on intense collaboration across disciplines in science and tech-
nology (for instance, information and communication, biology,
chemistry, earth system sciences, material sciences, neuro- and cog-
nitive sciences, social sciences or economics) and with the arts and
humanities. This requires not only excellence in science and technol-
ogy but also new attitudes and novel interactions between a broad
range of players in research. (European Commission, 2011: 35).
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Des Fitzgerald is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Social
Science, Health and Medicine, King’s College London, where he works
on an ESRC Transformative grant, ‘A New Sociology for a New
Century’. His research interests are in the relationship between sociology
and biology, in neuroscience, in urbanicity and mental health, and in
autism.
Felicity Callard is Reader in Social Science for Medical Humanities at
Durham University and has wide-ranging research interests in 20th- and
21st-century psychiatry, neuroscience and psychoanalysis. She is Group
Leader of the first residency of The Hub at Wellcome Collection, which
will conduct interdisciplinary experiments (on ‘rest’ and its opposites)
across the social sciences, humanities, arts and neurosciences.
32 Theory, Culture & Society 32(1)
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... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
Chapter
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Starting with the premise that figures are woven through the vernacular language we use to describe media, this chapter argues that figures are essential for making sense of the shaping and conditioning influence that media-technical systems exercise on contemporary life. It develops this proposition by placing the example of cloud computing in dialogue with Donna J. Haraway’s concept of figures. Cloud computing is a figure that renders heterogeneous, complex, and often-unrepresentable media-technical systems inhabitable. That is, this figure constructs a distributed media-technical system as an inhabitable “milieu.” Conversely, cloud computing also reveals figures’ methodological potential for “figuring”: that is, they can also be used to understand how computational systems construct modes of inhabitation.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
Chapter
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Platforms for standardising and sharing data between research and care are in construction, as they have been for some years. Currently, they take the form of creating a large ‘knowledge bank’ linking health records and biological samples with explicit consent for research use. Researchers will be able to work with the data without being able to identify patients, through pseudonymising techniques. This virtual research space is described as a walled garden. In this chapter, we ask what/who/when is a person as they are disassembled, transformed, layered and valued; emerging from and disappearing into data that are disaggregated and segregated. Together—an anthropologist, an epidemiologist and a patient who is fortuitously known as the gardener and has participated in many research studies since 2013—we hope to re-aggregate data and reconstruct a fuller history in which the patient is recognisable. This enquiry necessarily raises questions about the different ways in which a person is figured and distributed through personal experience, ethnography and biomedicine.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter sets out a conceptual agenda for exploring the work that figures do in contemporary cultural politics. It pays attention to how figures operate as affective technologies of power by tapping into public feelings and their potential to organise alternative forms of life. It brings three writers: Donna Haraway, Erich Auerbach and Michel Foucault, whose work engages with the politics of figures and figuration, into dialogue to provide a conceptual outline for thinking about the work that figures do. This chapter further argues that adopting a critical and creative practice in relation to figures reveals their cultural and affective power in sculpting worlds: how they lure us towards particular political architectures and provide substance for alternative ways of being and relating.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
Chapter
Full-text available
Figuring is posited as always accompaniment; something that does not discernibly alter the visual and sensual dimensions of an entity, that remains apparently aloof from its configuration, but which nevertheless prompts a reorientation of engagement; which at least raises a degree of uncertainty about what it is we are confronting in an appearance that otherwise has all the hallmarks of an integrity and coherence. Mobilizing various strands of critical Black thought, the focus here is on the urban, and how there is always something only partially used, something that remains just out of reach, or is deemed irrelevant that accompanies all that is standard operating procedure, all that are demarcated and zoned spatial arrangements. Accompaniment is a submergent infrastructure that suggests something else than what is recognized.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
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This introduction will outline the concept and practice of “figure” and “figuration.” The word “figure” can refer to numbers, characters in text or representations of persons or other entities in images or to a movement or series of movements, a diagram or a short succession of notes. In uses such as prefiguring, configuring, and disfiguring, it can refer to a process, opening questions of ordering, causality, premonition, (retrospective) fulfilment, prophecy, anticipation, redemption and pre-emption. As a noun, configuration can refer to an assemblage or the ways in which technologies materialise cultural imaginaries. Figures sit between the representational and the abstract; they can be inhabited and, in being inhabited, can be turned. We conclude by inviting readers to “go figure!”
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
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This chapter discusses three figures of speech: the organization Not In Our Name (NION), #JeSuisCharlie and #MeToo and describes the ways in which, as figures of speech, they constitute persons through a consideration of the use of names, pronouns and numbers. Concerns include whether the person so constituted is singular or plural, how participation in the figure of speech is configured, whether the persons are recognized to be ‘proper’, and whether and how the persons can speak the truth. The conclusion brings these concerns together in the proposal that what distinguishes the persons of #JeSuisCharlie and #MeToo is that they are ‘stuck in the middle’ with ‘People Like You’.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
Chapter
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Are we made up entirely and without residue of the data that defines us, or is there a disjunction between our data shadows and our embodied selves? How do we come to recognize ourselves, our selves, in the pronouns that interpellate us online, and what is it exactly that we recognize? What does it mean to occupy the semantic and positional space of the pronoun ‘you’? And is there a continuity or a discontinuity between the systems of surveillance and data aggregation that address us and the systems that don’t? The markers of identity generated by such systems work by both individuating and classifying us; this chapter seeks to think about the range of possible relations between that generality and that particularity.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
Chapter
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We wanted to learn about new ways of diagnosing and treating cancers that are associated with what in the UK is called ‘personalised medicine’. We followed the work of one scientific team who use samples to develop ‘liquid biopsies’, extracting and tracking circulating tumour DNA. We propose this ‘personalised’ monitoring involves the figuration of disease. Using the terms developed by Erich Auerbach (1938; 1946), we suggest that personalised tracking may establish serial, figure-fulfilment relationships, connecting events and persons. We show how the development of liquid biopsies in oncology involves multiple figures in pictorial, numerical, and conceptual forms. Using serial liquid biopsies, patients can be stratified into sub-groups but also into figures of personalisation.
... By tracing how the interdisciplinary methods unfolded and played out in practice, we show that the combination of methods in the project generated very different kinds of data about air pollution that led to epistemological and ontological frictions which support reflexivity (Garnett 2017). Through a discussion of the experimental entanglements (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) animated in PCEs, we delineate some of the fraught intentions and ambitions the figure of 'the child with asthma' produced (cf. Murphy 2017: 82). ...
... This difference in valuation was in part structured by a temporal out of jointness (Fitzgerald and Callard 2015) between the "in real time" data of PCEs and the non-linear temporalities that characterised the qualitative assessments of living with asthma. In the quantitative data, the person is fixed in space and time, and the person only comes into view through analytical processes where the co-occurrence of particular data elements gives rise to them (Amoore and Piotukh 2015: 354). ...
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This chapter examines the kinds of agency imputed to machines by the tradition of IT configuration management. While it is rarely examined by social or cultural studies of technology, IT configuration management is of profound importance in the story of cloud computing and recent paradigms of information security. Like infrastructure studies, configuration management took shape in relation to the pragmatics of managing “heterogeneous distributed computing” in the 1990s, and shares with Susan Leigh Star’s early work a concern with the problem of coordination in distributed systems. Given an obsession with figurative imagery in configuration management’s self-descriptions (engines, puppets, conductors, chefs, promises), I ask whether we can detect a shift here in how human-machine relations are figured, from one of control to one of stewardship.
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Re-Visioning Psychiatry explores new theories and models from cultural psychiatry and psychology, philosophy, neuroscience and anthropology that clarify how mental health problems emerge in specific contexts and points toward future integration of these perspectives. Taken together, the contributions point to the need for fundamental shifts in psychiatric theory and practice: • Restoring phenomenology to its rightful place in research and practice • Advancing the social and cultural neuroscience of brain-person-environment systems over time and across social contexts • Understanding how self-awareness, interpersonal interactions, and larger social processes give rise to vicious circles that constitute mental health problems • Locating efforts to help and heal within the local and global social, economic, and political contexts that influence how we frame problems and imagine solutions. In advancing ecosystemic models of mental disorders, contributors challenge reductionistic models and culture-bound perspectives and highlight possibilities for a more transdisciplinary, integrated approach to research, mental health policy, and clinical practice.
Book
When The Concept of Nature by Alfred North Whitehead was first published in 1920 it was declared to be one of the most important works on the relation between philosophy and science for many years, and several generations later it continues to deserve careful attention. Whitehead explores the fundamental problems of substance, space and time, and offers a criticism of Einstein's method of interpreting results while developing his own well-known theory of the four-dimensional 'space-time manifold'. With a specially commissioned new preface written by Michael Hampe, this book is presented in a fresh series livery for the twenty-first century for a new generation of readers.
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In this volume, prominent American and European scholars explore the historical shaping of psychological discourse. Speaking from several disciplinary standpoints, attention is directed to the ideological, intellectual, political, economic and literary forces that enter into the cultural construction of mental life. In its explorations, the volume not only challenges the reality of the taken for granted world of everyday life, but raises fundamental questions concerning the potential of psychological science to establish historically independent knowledge of mental process. Contributions to the volume treat a variety of subjects, including the emotions, cognition, the concept of child development, psychotherapy, gender differences and knowledge. Additional chapters represent first-hand accounts of historical change in psychological movements.
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Recent neuroscience, in replacing the old model of the brain as a single centralized source of control, has emphasized "plasticity," the quality by which our brains develop and change throughout the course of our lives. Our brains exist as historical products, developing in interaction with themselves and with their surroundings. Hence there is a thin line between the organization of the nervous system and the political and social organization that both conditions and is conditioned by human experience. Looking carefully at contemporary neuroscience, it is hard not to notice that the new way of talking about the brain mirrors the management discourse of the neo-liberal capitalist world in which we now live, with its talk of decentralization, networks, and flexibility. Consciously or unconsciously, science cannot but echo the world in which it takes place. In the neo-liberal world, "plasticity" can be equated with "flexibility"-a term that has become a buzzword in economics and management theory. The plastic brain would thus represent just another style of power, which, although less centralized, is still a means of control. In this book, Catherine Malabou develops a second, more radical meaning for plasticity. Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances. Such an understanding opens up a newly transformative aspect of the neurosciences. In insisting on this proximity between the neurosciences and the social sciences, Malabou applies to the brain Marx's well-known phrase about history: people make their own brains, but they do not know it. This book is a summons to such knowledge.
Article
Recent findings in neuroscience have shown differential patterns in brain activity in response to similar stimuli and activities across cultural and social differences. This calls for a framework to understand how such differences may come to be implemented in brains and neurons. Based on strands of research in social anthropology, we argue that human practices are characterized by particular patterns, and that participating in these patterns orders how people perceive and act in particular group- and context-specific ways. This then leads to a particular patterning of neuronal processes that may be detected using e.g. brain imaging methods. We illustrate this through (a) a classical example of phoneme perception (b) recent work on performance in experimental game play. We then discuss these findings in the light of predictive models of brain function. We argue that a 'culture as patterned practices' approach obviates a rigid nature-culture distinction, avoids the problems involved in conceptualizing 'culture' as a homogenous grouping variable, and suggests that participating as a competent participant in particular practices may affect both the subjective (first person) experience and (third person) objective measures of behavior and brain activity.