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.

About Virality

Tony D. Sampson is Reader in Digital Culture and Communications at the University of East London. He has a PhD in social-cultural-digital contagion theory from the Sociology Department at the University of Essex. He is a former art student who re-entered higher education in the UK as a mature student in the mid-1990s after a long stint as a gigging musician. His career in education has moved through various disciplines and departments, including a maths and computing faculty, sociology department and school of digital media and design His publications include The Spam Book, coedited with Jussi Parikka (Hampton Press, 2009), Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016), Affect and Social Media (Rowman and Littlefield, July 2018) and The Sleepwalker's Guide to Social Media (due 2020 with Polity Press). Tony is the organizer and host of the Affect and Social Media conferences in the UK (see archive on this blog). As a co-founder and co-director of the public engagement initiatives, Club Critical Theory (CCT) and the Cultural Engine Research Group (CERG), Tony has been project lead on a number of funded projects that bring impactful critical theories into the community and local political sphere to approach. These activities have included large conferences, symposia and informal lectures/workshops in pubs and community centres, co-organized with community groups and local authorities. Tony occasionally blogs at: Full academic profile:
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