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Health (London). 2010 Nov;14(6):635-52. doi: 10.1177/1363459309360796.

The plastic brain: neoliberalism and the neuronal self.

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Graduate Center, City University of New York, New York 10016, USA.


Neuroscience-based representations and practices of the brain aimed at lay populations present the brain in ways that both affirm biological determinism and also celebrate plasticity, or the brain's ability to change structure and function. Popular uses of neuroscientific theories of brain plasticity are saturated with a neoliberal vision of the subject. Against more optimistic readings of plasticity, I view the popular deployment of plasticity through the framework of governmentality. I describe how popular brain discourse on plasticity opens up the brain to personal techniques of enhancement and risk avoidance, and how it promotes a neuronal self. I situate brain plasticity in a context of biomedical neoliberalism, where the engineering and modification of biological life is positioned as essential to selfhood and citizenship.

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