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Narration and Neuroscience: Encountering the Social on the “Last Frontier of Medicine”

Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences

ISBN: 978-1-84855-880-9, eISBN: 978-1-84855-881-6

Publication date: 17 October 2011


As the neurosciences endeavor to explain increasingly complex aspects of human biology and behavior, domains of human life that can only be assessed in social interaction become ever more important, if formally unacknowledged, dimensions of scientific research. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with 14 researchers who study epilepsy genetics, this chapter examines how neuroscientists encounter ‘the social.’ We find that at the beginning of their careers, researchers are intrigued by epilepsy as a disease of the brain and a means of exploring “the last frontier in medicine.” However, as they begin their investigations, the importance of building social relationships, gleaning the subtleties of seizure experience available only in patient narratives, and engaging with families in the field quickly emerge as important parts of epilepsy genetics research. Some researchers hope for and work toward a day when new techniques or models will allow them to forgo the time consuming, painstaking, and often invisible work of gathering detailed histories, combing through patient narratives, and traveling to field sites to meet with families. However, these accounts make clear that, at the current moment, much of “the molecular work” of epilepsy genetics research is built upon social interactions, relationships, and experiences.


Shostak, S. and Waggoner, M. (2011), "Narration and Neuroscience: Encountering the Social on the “Last Frontier of Medicine”", Pickersgill, M. and Van Keulen, I. (Ed.) Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 51-74.



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