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Is there a ‘neuroscientific turn’ in the humanities and social sciences?

Posted Aug 18 2009 10:20pm

A year ago, Adam and I made fun of the tendency in the humanities and social sciences to invent ‘turns’ — the linguistic turn, the bodily turn, etc. (see earlier posts here and  here ).

But some ‘turns’ are more justified than others. Melissa Littlefield at the University of Illinois and Jenell Johnson at the Louisiana State University have just sent out a call for papers for a conference titled ‘The Neuroscientific Turn in the Humanities and Social Sciences’:

From economics to English, religious studies to recreation, neurology has become the latest theoretical tool for analyzing society and culture. While there has been some backlash against this trend, research continues to emerge in areas of neurotheology, neuromarketing, neuroethics, neuroaesthetics, the neurohumanities, and neurohistory to name but a few. We are seeking essays for an edited collection that analyze and interrogate this recent neuroscientific turn in the humanities and social sciences. We are particularly interested to hear from researchers who apply the neuro- to their own disciplinary work.

Here are some of the questions the organisers raise:

  • Why has there been a shift to using neuroscience as an epistemological framework and/or theoretical tool in the humanities and social sciences?
  • What kind of arguments does it allow / foreclose / refute?
  • How is this trend related to the ‘decade of the brain’?
  • How do visualization technologies like fMRI shape or limit the neuroscientific turn?
  • Is the neuroscientific turn interdiscplinary, cross-disciplinary, multi-disciplinary?
  • What are the rights and responsibilities of such inter/cross/multiple-disciplinary research?
  • Should this neuro- research fall under the purview of neuroethics?
  • What roles do print and digital media play in the development and distribution of this trend?
  • Why and how do the humanities and the social sciences need the neurosciences?
  • What can the neurosciences learn from this trend in the humanities and the social sciences?
  • How might these fields combine into a discipline of their own?

You are invited to submit a 300 word abstract and a brief (1-3 page) CV to both Melissa Littlefield ( mml@illinois.edu ) and Jenell Johnson ( jjohn@lsu.edu ) by 30 October. Final versions of the essays will be tentatively due by 1 June next year.

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