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CfP: Psyche and Brain in the 21st Century (AAA 2014)

Call for Papers: Psyche and Brain in the 21st Century

American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, December 2014

The past several “Decades of the Brain” have witnessed a critical shift in human ontology: from psyche to brain. In influential psychoanalytic theories of the 20th century, the origin of human motivation, belief and behavior was thought to be the psyche: a deep and often unpredictable interior space whose contents can be accessed only indirectly and inferentially, and whose terrain is shaped most deeply through interpersonal relationships. Today, the explanatory model of the psyche has been eclipsed by an ideal of the brain: a stable material object whose processes can be visualized through technoscience and predictably modified through biomedical intervention. Yet claims that this shift to “brainhood” is absolute, complete, or unidirectional miss the many ways that these models inform each other, and overlook the many contexts within which the psyche endures as an organizing principle of human epistemology and behavior.

In keeping with the AAA 2014 meeting’s “provocation to examine the truths we encounter, produce and communicate” this panel aims to explore transitions and spaces of tensionbetween between psyche and brain as human ontologies.  Resisting the conceptualizations of these categories as polar opposites or two mutually exclusive ends of a continuum, this panel seeks to explore their points of continuity and coexistence. How do “narratives, actions, sediment and bone” interact in contemporary conceptualizations of human motivation, intention, desire, and action? While there are many factors driving the “neuro turn,” across a dazzling array of domains, the psyche remains a powerful force in conceptualizations of human self and behavior. However, its presence may today be felt most strongly outside of the so-called “psyences” – psychology, psychiatry, psychopharmacology, and other forms of “mental health” expertise – in domains such as literature, advertising, and allied health professions.

We are thus soliciting papers that explore these questions in a wide variety of settings.  Relevant ethnographic fields might include mental health care facilities and treatment interventions, but also integrated care clinics, schools, marketing, the legal and/or justice system, artificial intelligence and behavior prediction algorithms, and anywhere else that consequential inferences are made about how people behave and why they do what they do. How do such practices call upon and integrate models of psyche and brain, in order to predict, understand, or shape human experience and behavior?

For consideration, please submit a 250 word abstract to Elizabeth Fein at by February 28th, 2014.

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