Experimental Entanglements: Re-thinking the dynamics of interaction across the social sciences and neurosciences

With Des Fitzgerald (King’s College London) & Felicity Callard (Durham University)

Chaired by Monica Greco

In this paper we offer an account of the dynamics of interaction across the social sciences and neurosciences, and we work to re-imagine what those dynamics can and should look like. In particular, we call for a more expansive imaginary of what experiment – as practice and ethos – might offer as a mode of creative intervention in this space.

We argue that an upsurge in interactions between the social sciences and neurosciences is increasingly hard to avoid, both in a technocratic commitment to ‘interdisciplinary’ engagements between these domains, and in often worried accounts from the field. But this paper situates itself against existing conceptualizations of these dynamics, which it groups under three rubrics of neuro-engagement: critique, ebullience, and interaction. Despite their differences, each of these modes either insists on an on-going distinction between sociocultural and neurobiological knowledge, or fails to imagine how a more entangled and epistemologically-potent field might be realised through practices of experimentation.

We link the limitations of these modes to what we identify as the ‘régime of the inter-’, a guiding spirit of interaction between disciplines, grounded in a political/epistemological commitment to their pre-existing separateness. Our core argument is therefore twofold: (1) that, contra the ‘régime of the inter-,‘ it is no longer practicable or desirable to maintain a hygienic separation between sociocultural webs and neurobiological architecture, whose entanglements remain indifferent to disciplinary ethos; (2) that the cognitive neuroscientific experiment, as a rich space of epistemological and ontological excess, offers a still-mostly-uncharted space for researchers, from all disciplines, to understand, explore and register the outcomes of this realization.

Des Fitzgerald is a postdoctoral researcher, and member of the Urban Brain Lab, at the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, at King’s College London. His research interests include neuroscience and psychiatry, urbanicity, autism, affect, and interdisciplinarity. He can be reached at des.fitzgerald@kcl.ac.uk

Felicity Callard is a senior lecturer in social science for medical humanities at Durham University, where she is also based in the geography department. Her research centres on the history and present of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, cognitive neuroscience, and the ‘affective turn’, which she is currently exploring through attention to accounts of ‘rest’ and ‘mind-wandering’ in cognitive neuroscience, and in a book-project on the genealogies of agoraphobia and panic disorder in psychiatric nosology. She can be reached at Felicity.Callard@Durham.ac.uk