Cohen Center

Visiting Scholar: Nikolas Rose

Thu, 31 Mar 2016 11:00 AM - Fri, 1 Apr 2016 12:00 PM


Nikolas Rose is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine at King’s College London. His work explores how scientific developments have changed conceptions of human identity and governance and what this means for our political, socio-economic and legal futures. Rose is a Co-director of the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation (CSynBI), a major research collaboration between King’s and Imperial College London. Trained as a biologist, a psychologist and a sociologist, Rose co-founded two influential radical journals in the 1970s and 1980s, playing a key role in introducing French post-structuralist critical thought to an English speaking audience and helping develop new approaches to political analysis and strategy. He has published widely across numerous fields and disciplines, with work translated into 13 languages. He is a former Managing Editor of Economy and Society and Joint Editor-in-Chief of the interdisciplinary journal, BioSocieties

"The Human Sciences in a Biological Age: From Biology as Destiny to Biology as Opportunity?"

Thursday, 3/31 11am in Grafton Stovall Theatre

We live, according to some, in a century of biology, where the insights of genomics and neuroscience have opened up the workings of our bodies and our minds to new kinds of knowledge and new technologies of intervention.  Over the last fifty years, the relation of the social sciences to biological explanations of human conduct has – understandably – largely been one of critique: biology seemed to offer only reductionism, fatalism determinism, and a biological legitimation of inequality.  In this lecture I shall argue that a new biology is hesitantly taking shape, beyond reductionism.  A number of life scientists, especially those involved with biomedicine, are recognizing the limits of the powerful reductionist research programme that has driven advances over the last half century, and are tentatively exploring new styles of thought and investigation that address complexity and emergence. This emerging style of thought relocates the organism in its social and cultural milieu and recognises that living creatures are shaped by that milieu from the moment of conception if not before. In this talk I outline the changes in the life sciences, consider their limitations and argue for the need for a new relation that I term ‘critical friendship.’  Using examples from my current research on mental health, migration and the megacity, I argue that such a new relation can enable novel understandings of, and interventions into, some of the classical problems addressed by the social sciences, such as the effects of poverty, exclusion, racism and violence.  I conclude that a new engagement with biology is required if the social and human sciences are to revitalize themselves for the twenty-first century.

"Governing (Through) The Brain: How Neuroscience Moved from the Lab to the World"

Thursday, 3/31 3:30pm in Grafton Stovall Theatre

In this lecture I explore the ways in which, over the last fifty years, neuroscience has transformed itself from largely a laboratory based enterprise into an expertise making claims about how human conduct should be understood and governed in many different domains.  This shift has accelerated since the 1990s, at least in the US and Western Europe, and we have seen the proliferation of  brain based explanations of human behavior which are  supplementing and often displacing psychological explanations of human volition, action and emotion.  We can see this in relation to  advice to parents and teachers, in accounts of criminal behavior, in new understandings of human sociality, in marketing and consumption practices, in military research,  and in our understanding of personhood itself.  In this paper, I survey the birth of this this developing configuration, explore the role of neuroscience in the government of human conduct, and examine the implications, and the limitations, of the growing belief that what makes us humans human is our brains. Exploring three specific areas – psychopharmacology, brain visualisation and the idea of neuroplasticity -  I consider how has governing the conduct of human beings come to require, presuppose and utilize a knowledge of the human brain and with what consequences.  I ask what role are these new ‘cerebral knowledges’ and technologies are coming to play in our ideas about ourselves, our politics and our ethics? Is the ‘psychological complex’ of the twentieth century giving way to a ‘neurobiological complex’ in the twenty-first, and, if so, how should the social and human sciences respond?

"Beyond the Mind-Brain Problem? Problems and Perils of Intervening in the Human Brain"

Friday, 4/1 11am in Memorial Hall Auditorium

Philosophers have been debating the mind-brain or mind-body problem for centuries. While few neuroscientists claim to know how to bridge the ‘explanatory gap’ between mental events and brain processes, the operative philosophy of the neurosciences is now that “The half-century’s accumulation of knowledge of brain function has brought us face to face with the question of what it means to be human.... what makes man human is his brain…. Things mental, indeed minds, are emergent properties of brains.” (Mountcastle, 1998).  Undeterred by philosophical doubts, neurobiologists have proposed new brain based explanations for normal and abnormal mental states and processes, and have invented new technologies - from brain computer interfaces to  humanized robots - for simulating, reading and manipulating the human brain.   Neuroscientists are working with computer scientists, engineers and others to use this knowledge to create and control technological artefacts.  In this talk I will consider some of these developments and explore their implications.  While there is much to criticize in the exaggerated claims often made for contemporary neurotechnologies, I will ask whether, beyond critique, these developments offer a radical challenge to the comfortable dualism of much social thought, and what this might imply for the problems and perils of managing minds by interventions into brains. 

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