Vulnerable Normality: Popular Neuroimaging and the Discursive Logic of the (Dis)able(d) Brain
Keywords: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.
Abi-Rached, Joelle M. & Rose, Nikolas (2010): ‘The Birth of the Neuromolecular Gaze’, History of the Human Sciences, 23:1, 11-36. https://doi.org/10.1177/0952695109352407
Adams, DL & Erevelles, Nirmala (2017): ‘Unexpected Spaces of Confinement: Aversive Technologies, Intellectual Disability, and “Bare Life”’, Punishment & Society, 19:3, 348-365. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474517705147
Agamben, Giorgio (1998). Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Alftberg, Åsa & Hansson, Kristofer (2012): ‘Self-Care Translated into Practice’, Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 4, 415-424.
Altermark, Niklas (2018): Citizenship Inclusion and Intellectual Disability: Biopolitics Post-institutionalisation, Abingdon: Routledge.
Baldick, Chris (2015): The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. 4th ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780198715443.001.0001
Beauvoir, Simone de (1976 /1948): The Ethics of Ambiguity, New York: Kensington Publishing Corp.
Beaulieu, Anne (2004): ‘From Brainbank to Database: The Informational Turn in the Study of the Brain’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 35:2, 367-390. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2004.03.011
Beck, Ulrich (1992): Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, London: Sage.
Bengtsen, Peter & Suneson, Ellen (2017): ‘Pathological Creativity: How Popular Media Connect Neurological Disease and Creative Practices’, Kristofer Hansson & Markus Idvall (eds): Interpreting the Brain in Society. Cultural Reflections on Neuroscientific Practices, Lund: Arkiv Förlag, 29-47.
Brown, Nik (2003): ‘Hope Against Hype: Accountability in Biopasts, Presents and Futures’, Social Studies of Science, 16:2, 3-21.
Butler, Judith (2004): Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, London: Verso.
Campbell, Fiona Kumari (2008): ‘Refusing Able(ness): A Preliminary Conversation About Ableism’, M/C Journal, 11:3, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/ mcjournal/article/viewArticle/46 (accessed April 05, 2018).
Carusi, Annamaria & Aud Sissel Hoel (2014): ‘Toward a New Ontology of Scientific Vision’, Catelijne Coopmans, Janet Vertesi, Michael E. Lynch & Lynch Woolgar (eds): Representation in Scientific Practice Revisited, Cambridge: MIT Press, 201-221. https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/9780262525381.003.0010
Choudhury, Suparna & Slaby, Jan (2011): Critical Neuroscience: A Handbook of the Social and Cultural Contexts of Neuroscience, Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444343359
Cooter, Roger (1984): The Cultural Meaning of Popular Science: Phrenology and the Organization of Consent in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Davis, Lennard J. (1995): Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body, New York: Verso.
Doidge, Norman (2007): The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, New York: Viking.
Dumit, Joseph (2004): Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Diagnostic Identity, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Dussauge, Isabelle (2008): Technomedical Visions: Magnetic Resonance Imaging in 1980s Sweden, Stockholm: Kungliga Tekniska högskolan.
Foucault, Michel (1979/1975): Discipline and Punish, New York: Vintage.
Foucault, Michel (1990/1976): The history of sexuality. Vol. 1, The will to knowledge, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Foucault, Michel (2003/1973): The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception, London: Routledge.
Gottweis, Herbert (2008): ‘Participation and the New Governance of Life’, BioSocieties, 3:3, 265-286. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1745855208006194
Hansson, Kristofer (2005): ’Biopop: Biovetenskapens popularisering i medierna’ [Biopop: The Popularisation of Biomedicine in the Medias], ETN: Etnologisk skriftserie, 1:1, 107-117.
Hansson, Kristofer (2017): ‘A Different Kind of Engagement: P.C. Jersild’s Novel A Living Soul’, Kristofer Hansson & Markus Idvall (eds): Interpreting the brain in society. Cultural reflections on neuroscientific practices, Lund: Arkiv Förlag, 17-28.
Hansson, Kristofer & Idvall, Markus (2017): ‘Introduction: Interpreting the Brain in Society’, Kristofer Hansson & Markus Idvall (eds): Interpreting the Brain in Society: Cultural Reflections on Neuroscientific Practices, Lund: Arkiv Förlag, 11-15.
Hoel, Aud Sissel & Lindseth, Frank (2014): ‘Differential Interventions: Images as Operative Tools’, The new Everyday: A MediaCommons Project, ‘The Operative Image’ Cluster, curated by Ingrid Hoelzl, http://mediacommons.futureofthebook. org/tne/pieces/differential-interventions-images-operative-tools-2 (accessed April 05, 2018).
Hoel, Aud Sissel (2017): ‘Styles of Seeing and Knowing in the Neurosciences’, Kristofer Hansson & Markus Idvall (eds): Interpreting the Brain in Society: Cultural Reflections on Neuroscientific Practices, Lund: Arkiv Förlag, 157-163.
hooks, bell (1990): Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, Boston, MA: South End Press.
Jordan, Thomas (2014): ‘Disability, Able-Bodiedness, and the Biopolitical Imagination’, Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, 9:1, 26-38.
Joyce, Kelly A. (2008): Magnetic Appeal: MRI and the Myth of Transparency, Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press.
Latour, Bruno (2005): Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Liljefors, Max (2012): ‘Neuronal Fantasies: Reading Neuroscience with Schreber’, Max Liljefors, Susanne Lundin & Andrea Wiszmeg (eds): The Atomized Body: The Cultural Life of Stem Cells, Genes and Neurons, Lund: Nordic Academic Press, 143-169.
Liljefors, Max (2017): ‘’Biospace’: Metaphors of Space in Microbiological Images’, Kristofer Hansson & Markus Idvall (eds): Interpreting the Brain in Society. Cultural Reflections on Neuroscientific Practices, Lund: Arkiv Förlag, 49-71.
Linton, Simi (1998): Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity, New York: New York University Press.
McRuer, Robert (2006): Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, New York: New York University Press.
Pellizzoni, Luigi (1999): ‘Reflexive Modernisation and Beyond Knowledge and Value in the Politics of Environment and Technology’, Theory, Culture and Society, 16:4, 99-125. https://doi.org/10.1177/02632769922050737
Pellizzoni, Luigi (2001): ‘The Myth of the Best Argument: Power, Deliberation and Reason’, British Journal of Sociology, 52:1, 59-86. https://doi.org/10.1080/00071310020023037
Phillips, Cassandra (2001): ‘Re-imagining the (Dis)Abled Body’, Journal of Medical Humanities, 22:3, 195-208. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1016612116909
Rose, Nikolas (2007): The Politics of Life Itself: Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-first Century, Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400827503
Rose, Nikolas & Abi-Rached, Joelle M. (2013): Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind, Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781400846337
Rydström, Jens (2012): ‘Introduction: Crip Theory in Scandinavia’, Lambda Nordica, 17:1-2, 9-20.
Schimtz, Sigrid & Grit Höppner (2014): ‘Catching the Brain Today: From Neurofeminism to Gendered Neurocultures’, Sigrid Schmitz & Gritt Höppner (eds): Gendered Neurocultures: Feminist and Queer Perspectives on Current Brain Discourses, Vienna: Zaglossus, 9-37.
Sturken, Marita & Cartwright, Lisa (2001): Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, Carol (2007): Sociologies of Disability and Illness: Contested Ideas in Disability Studies and Medical Sociology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-137-02019-2
Vidal, Fernando (2009): ‘Brainhood, Anthropological Figure of Modernity’, History of the Human Sciences, 22:1, 5-36. https://doi.org/10.1177/0952695108099133
Žižek, Slavoj (2010): Living in the End Times, London: Verso.
Wynne, Brian (1996/1992): ‘Misunderstood Misunderstanding: Social Identities and Public Uptake of Science’, Alan Irwin & Brian Wynne (eds): Misunderstanding Science? The Public Reconstruction of Science and Technology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19-46. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511563737.002
Copyright (c) 2018 Kristofer Hansson, Ellen Suneson
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Copyright for all manuscripts rests with the author(s). The editors reserve the right to edit manuscripts. Contributors are responsible for acquiring all permissions from the copyright owners for the use of quotations, illustrations, tables, etc. Each author must, before final publication fill, in a publishing agreement provided by LiU E-Press.
Since 2021 Culture Unbound uses a Creative Commons: Attribution license for new articles, which allows users to distribute the work and to reform or build upon it without the author's permission. Full reference to the author must be given. For older articles please see each article landing page.