, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 346–365 | Cite as

Constituting neurologic subjects: Neuroscience, subjectivity and the mundane significance of the brain

  • Martyn Pickersgill
  • Sarah Cunningham-Burley
  • Paul Martin
Original Article


What are the links between neuroscience and personhood? This article explores this question empirically through the lens of ‘neurologic subjectivity’. Drawing on focus group research, we examine how individuals draw on both neuroscience and the neurological to articulate subjectivity. Our participants’ talk demonstrates the importance of ideas about the brain for understanding their selves and others. However, reference to the brain was not a thoroughly dominant discourse; rather, neurologic ideas may be accepted, played with, and resisted. Thus, the brain is an object of ‘mundane significance’, often distant from everyday experience. We argue that individuals can best be understood as bricoleurs, piecing together diverse knowledges pertaining to soma, psyche and society: neuroscientific concepts compete with, integrate into, and only occasionally fully supplant, pre-existing notions of subjectivity. It might therefore be argued that it is, in part, through the sociological gaze itself that neurologic subjectivity is constituted.


focus groups ontology personhood neurological neuroscience subjectivity 



This research was funded through by the ESRC as part of a research project titled, ‘Constituting Neurologic Subjects: Neuroscience, Identity and Society after the “Decade of the Brain” ’ (RES-000-22-35). We are very grateful to all our focus group participants for generously giving of their time, and to Epilepsy Scotland, Headway and the Scottish Dementia Working Group for their help with recruitment.


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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martyn Pickersgill
    • 1
  • Sarah Cunningham-Burley
    • 1
  • Paul Martin
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Population Health Sciences, Medical School, The University of EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Institute for Science and Society, Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, The University of NottinghamUK

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