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Criminalizing the brain: Neurocriminology and the production of strategic ignorance

  • Mallory Fallin
  • Owen Whooley
  • Kristin Kay Barker
Original Article


With the increasing use of imaging technologies like fMRI in prison sentencing and penal policy, sociologists must comprehend the consequences of these trends and the scientific assumptions upon which they stand. This article uses insights from the sociology of knowledge to interrogate the epistemological and ontological assumptions of neurocriminology, an interdisciplinary field that studies the neural basis of crime. Through a discourse analysis of research articles that embrace what we term the “neurocriminological vision,” we demonstrate how features of the research design eschew the consideration of social factors underlying crime and antisocial behavior. Focusing on the section of control variables, the ‘thinness’ of experimental tasks, and the management of inconvenient facts, we demonstrate how neurocriminological research transforms complex, socially situated behaviors into problems of neurocircuitry. We link these practices to the field-specific dynamics in which neurocriminology is situated, specifically as an interdisciplinary field which derives authority from neuroscience but is met with skepticism within criminology. In response to these dynamics, neurocriminologists produce not only knowledge, but also ignorance that is strategically useful given their professional goals. Beyond the particular case at hand, we emphasize the relationship between internal dynamics within scientific fields and their effects on the co-production of knowledge and ignorance.


Neuroscience Criminology Ignorance Sociology of knowledge Discourse analysis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mallory Fallin
    • 1
  • Owen Whooley
    • 2
  • Kristin Kay Barker
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of SociologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and CriminologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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