Neuroethics, Gender and the Response to Difference
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This paper examines how the new field of neuroethics is responding to the old problem of difference, particularly to those ideas of biological difference emerging from neuroimaging research that purports to further delineate our understanding of sex and/or gender differences in the brain. As the field develops, it is important to ask what is new about neuroethics compared to bioethics in this regard, and whether the concept of difference is being problematized within broader contexts of power and representation. As a feminist science studies scholar trained in the neurosciences, it seems logical to me that, as a growing field, neuroethics should reach out to the rich bodies of scholarship on the history of medicine, feminist theory and feminist bioethics while attempting to approach discussions of sex, gender and sexuality differences in the brain. What is also clear to me is that feminist scholars need to learn how to engage with neuroimaging studies on sex, gender and sexuality not just to critique, but also to productively contribute to neuroscientific research. The field of neuroethics can potentially provide the appropriate forum for this interdisciplinary engagement and create opportunities for shared perplexity. I suggest three possible points of departure for creating this shared perplexity, namely (i) is difference being measured in the study for the purpose of understanding difference in and of itself, or for the purpose of division?; (ii) is there an appreciation for biological complexity?; and (iii) is it assumed that structural differences can be conveniently translated into functional differences?
KeywordsSex Gender Difference Neuroimaging Ontology Epistemology Materiality Feminist theory Feminist ethics Feminist science studies
I would like to the thank the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University for support during my sabbatical year during which time I conducted some of the research for this paper and to the faculty research fellows for their comments and feedback on an earlier version of this work. I would also like to thank Anelis Kaiser and Isabelle Dussauge for organizing the “NeuroGenderings: Critical Studies of the Sexed Brain” conference held at Uppsala University in early 2010 and for inviting me to present portions of this article as a keynote address.
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