Visit to BrainCulture Lab in April

The BrainCultures Lab at Duke looks like a fascinating project. Website still a wip. All going to plan, I’ll be visiting to talk and debate the assemblage brain with them in mid April.


Here’s the blurb…

The BrainCultures Lab develops undergraduate and doctoral students’ humanistic and interdisciplinary toolkits by fostering the study of the brain as a socially and culturally constituted object, one that exceeds the strictly biological basis assumed by the neurosciences. While the focus of the lab is specifically on the plural lives of the brain (whether as a globalized icon for “intelligence,” sci-fi film feature, signifier of mindfulness, t-shirt logo, etc.), the lab additionally opens questions about the intersection of humanities and sciences more broadly. Through embedded courses, reading groups, workshops, film series, a multimedia website, and selected speakers and events, the lab exposes Duke students across specializations to strategies for critically conceptualizing the brain from a humanistic perspective.

BrainCultures begins with the contention that the brain is a heterogeneous assemblage with a social life of its own that doubles or is independent of the organ. Rather than unquestioningly ratifying the neurosciences’ view of the brain as a natural substratum, we draw on resources from critical theory, critical race theory, philosophy, and aesthetic works in order to position the brain as a plural and cultural object of humanistic investigation. BrainCultures challenges the superabundance of scholastic perspectives that have effectively revived localization debates of the nineteenth century, which equated mental illness with brain disorders. German psychiatrist Wilhelm Griesinger’s assertion that “mental illness is brain disease” in the 1840s effectively inaugurated a century and a half of medical and cultural investment in the brain as the physical site of mind and self.  Psychoanalysis is part of this early history. Sigmund Freud’s initial work as a neuropathologist is a testament to the centrality of brain-based debates during the formative years of psychiatry’s medical professionalization, even if psychoanalysis would dramatically depart from psychiatric practice thereafter. Contemporary psychiatry’s focus on psychopharmaceutical treatment preserves the core of Griesinger’s maxim: modification to the physical operation of the brain should, in theory, be the royal road to self and subject. Recent scholarship in the field of the neuro- and medical humanities has largely followed suit, working from the presumption that humanistic inquiry should merely reproduce or transpose the findings of neuroscience into its own idiom.

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