Vulnerable Normality: Popular Neuroimaging and the Discursive Logic of the (Dis)able(d) Brain


  • Kristofer Hansson Lund university
  • Ellen Suneson Art History and Visual Studies, Lund University, Sweden



ableism, brain, (dis)able(d), indistinctness, neuroscience, popular neuroimaging, popular science, vulnerable normality


The aim of this article is to analyse popular neuroimaging of (dis)able(d) brains as a cultural phenomenon, as well as to explore how there has been, during the last decades, a subtle but important change in the way “normal” brains are depicted in popular science. Popular neuroimaging is introduced and used as an empirical basis to analyse what Fiona Kumari Campbell sees as a critique against ableism. The empirical material consists of two British popular science documentaries (both produced by the BBC) on the topic of the brain: Human Brain (1983), and Brain Story (2004). The article argues that the position of normality and able-bodiedness has changed as the development of brain scanning techniques has emerged. In particular, there seems to have been a change in how the brain is visualized and talked about. New frameworks for understanding normality, disability and vulnerability have appeared. Furthermore, we claim that this shift needs to be studied from a theoretical perspective that analyses the discursive logic of the (dis)able(d) brain where an indistinctness transpires and creates a form of vulnerable normality.


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