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“We haven't Sliced Open anyone's Brain yet”: Neuroscience, Embodiment and the Governance of Addiction

Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences

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

ISSN: 1057-6290

Publication date: 17 October 2011


Neuroscientific technologies have begun to change the ways in which we understand, respond to, and treat drug addiction. According to addiction researchers, neuroscience marks a new era because of its potential to locate the causes of addiction within the brain and to treat addiction through altering neurochemistry. However, little is known about how addiction neuroscience and new neurochemical treatments shape individuals' experience of addiction and constitute new arrangements of knowledge and power that shape subjectivity and governance. This chapter addresses these domains by drawing on an analysis of scientific literature about addiction neuroscience and qualitative interviews with people being treated for addiction with buprenorphine, a pharmaceutical treatment for opioid dependence. The chapter charts four major themes in the addiction neuroscience literature (pleasure and the limbic system, rationality and the role of the prefrontal cortex, theories of plasticity, and the role of volition) and explores how each of these is incorporated, adapted, or rejected by individuals being treated for addiction with a pharmaceutical. This analysis demonstrates how neuroscientific ideas are mediated by the lived experiences of those being treated under a neuroscientific model. It also suggests that while neuroscientific interventions, like pharmaceuticals, shape the experience of those being treated for addiction, so too do many other forces, including social circumstances, moral frameworks, the drive for autonomy, and the quest to be “normal.”


Netherland, J. (2011), "“We haven't Sliced Open anyone's Brain yet”: Neuroscience, Embodiment and the Governance of Addiction", Pickersgill, M. and Van Keulen, I. (Ed.) Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 153-177.



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