Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 154-174

First online:

The Texture of the Real: Experimentation and Experience in Schizophrenia

  • Elizabeth BromleyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Center for Health Services and Society, University of CaliforniaWest Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, Desert Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) Email author 

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The dominance of the neurosciences in psychiatric research raises questions about the relationship between research practices and the lived experience of mental illness. Here, I use data from a group of researchers focusing on neurocognition in schizophrenia to explore the problem of representation in psychiatric research and the forms that neuroscientific evidence assumes for those who produce it. These researchers grappled with the complexity of schizophrenia not by narrowing disease concepts to biological facts but by referencing measurement techniques to generate new versions of schizophrenia. By linking experimental findings to inchoate concepts of personhood and social experience, I found that they reframed and reinforced cultural values, including that those with schizophrenia are destined to a debased and deficient existence. I argue that cognition has emerged as an essential feature of schizophrenia not only because of its representational utility but also because of the ontological work the concept performs. In closing, I present some implications for the neurobiological and social sciences.


Cognition Reductionism Stigma Schizophrenia Neuroscience