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Neurosociety conference: what is it with the brain these days?

09:00, 7 Dec 2010 to 17:00, 8 Dec 2010
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Saïd Business School
Park End Street
The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) and the European Neuroscience and Society Network (ENSN) jointly organised an international conference at Oxford's Saïd Business School. 
About the conference
The theme of the conference was the rise of the brain and the emergence of the brain industry or ‘neuro markets’. The aim was to explore how, why and in what ways the figure of the brain has come to permeate so many different areas of thinking and practice in academic and commercial life. What are the consequences for academia, business, commerce and policy?
Speakers included
• Kelly Joyce (College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA)
• Sabine Maasen (University of Basel)
• Patricia Pisters (University of Amsterdam)
• Nikolas Rose (London School of Economics and Political Science)
• Jonathan Rowson (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)
• Steve Woolgar (InSIS, Said Business School, Oxford)
• Paul Wouters (Leiden University)
For a full list of speakers and paper abstracts see the conference programme.
Tuesday, 07 December 2010
Welcome and opening remarks: Steve Woolgar and Tanja Schneider - listen
Panel discussion: 'Constructing and reading neuroimages' (Chair: Paul Martin) - listen 
Kelly Joyce - slides 
Patricia Pisters - slides 
Keynote 1: Nikolas Rose - 'Who do you think you are? Managing personhood in a neurobiological age' - slides l listen
Wednesday, 08 December 2010
Keynote 2a: Jonathan Rowson - 'The social value of neurological reflexivity: decisions, habits and attention'  - slides l listen
Keynote 2b: Sabine Maasen - 'Neuroeconomics - a marriage of giants thanks to neoliberal knowledge society?!' - listen
Closing discussion: Steve Woolgar and Paul Wouters - listen
The last twenty years have seen unprecedented advances in the neurosciences, in fields such as psychopharmacology, neurology and behavioural genetics. A growing number of ethicists, social scientists, legal scholars and philosophers have begun to analyse the social, legal and ethical implications of these advances, from the use of fMRI imaging in legal cases, to the medical benefits and risks of the increasing prescription of psychotropic drugs such as Prozac and Ritalin. Some attention has been paid to the economic questions raised by the commercial development and application of new technologies, and the extent to which subfields such as neuroeconomics and neuromarketing are generating commercially and clinically valuable findings. The conference aims to bring together academics and practitioners from this wide range of disciplines to attempt a critical evaluation of the current state and future prospects for neuro thinking.
  • The rise and current configuration of the international neuroindustry
    The conference seeks to map the diffusion of neuroscientific technology and knowledge by examining in which disciplines and which business practices the figure of the brain has become prominent and why in other disciplines or practices this is not the case. We are particularly interested in historical research that explores how the prominence of the brain has come about. Can we also anticipate the demise of the brain and what will supplant it? After eyes, skin and brain – what will be the next site of human bodies and behaviour  which will be exploited commercially? In addition to mapping the diffusion of the figure of the brain and exploring its historical specificity this conference seeks to address how the brain as a trope organises scholarly and commercial thinking in different disciplines and business fields. What then are the current and potential commercial application of the brain sciences, which companies are taking the lead in bringing new technologies to market, and how are policymakers and industry groups lobbying to change regulatory barriers toward the use of new technologies?

  • The economic and social value of the new brain sciences
    As neurological and psychiatric disorders place a significant economic and social toll on the health of populations internationally, much optimism surrounds the hope that developments in the neurosciences will help to find treatments for disorders such as depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism spectrum disorders. To what extent is this optimism warranted? Scholars have pointed out that a) in the past, the development of novel biomedical technologies has often tended to increase societal inequalities because access to them has been available only to a minority, and b) often the expectation surrounding new biomedical treatments exceeds the reality of their clinical usefulness. This theme will address whether, much like the optimism surrounding the benefit of advances in pharmacogenomics and gene therapy, the clinical usefulness of advances in the neurosciences has been exaggerated. In addition, we welcome papers that critically address the commercialisation of the new brain sciences and its implications for research priorities.
  • The ethical and social implications of biomarkets and neuromarketing
    Neuroeconomics – combining psychology, economics and neuroscience in order to understand the neural and social impulses behind decision-making – and neuromarketing – the study of the brain’s response to advertising techniques – are promising to revolutionize the fields of marketing and consumer choice. What are the likely consequences of this? What are the implications for consumer autonomy, the rise and pervasiveness of brand and advertising cultures, and the increasing adoption of reductive and/or deterministic models of human behaviour and decision-making? This theme will address the social, economic and political implications of new developments in neuroeconomics and neuromarketing, through drawing on the insights of ethicists, clinicians and industry representatives.

Participant comments

Thank you to everyone who attended or participated in the Institute's Neurosociety conference. As a result of everyone's contributions, the event was a remarkable success. Below are just a few highlights from the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received.
Just to say thanks again for a really great neuro event this week: a very vibrant, vital affair, at a great venue. - Simon Williams, University of Warwick
I just wanted to extend my thanks for the organisation of the recent conference ‘Neurosociety? What is it with the brain these days?’. This was my first conference as a PhD student (and since making the departmental jump from Psychology) and the participants, organisers and general structure of the conference made it a memorable first experience.  I know these positive thoughts are shared by my more experienced colleagues, and I hope this will be the first of many events at InSIS that I am able to attend. 
- Greg Hollin, University of Nottingham
Many thanks again for everything. The conference was great. I really enjoyed it. - Francisco Ortega, State University of Rio de Janeiro
I want to thank Steve (Woolgar) and Tanja (Schneider) for organising a great conference; for me, as a complete outsider to STS research, it was a very informative and an exciting 'peek into the kitchen'.


Steve Woolgar View profile

Steve Woolgar is a Senior Research Fellow (part-time) at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
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