Depsychologizing/deneurologizing modern subjectivity?

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein writes:

On January 8th I will be giving a paper critiquing neuroscience at the University of Ghent in Belgium:

“Depsychologizing/deneurologizing modern subjectivity? / One-day symposium & Book launch”

Neuroscience symposium

My paper at the event will be about how my interest lies primarily not just in analysing the problematic nature of the science that this kind of work claims, but in analysing also what is at stake in such approaches. Specifically, I am puzzled by the popularity of these kinds of claims when both the scientific and the philosophical frameworks they rest on are, at best, questionable and also not in any sense new or original, neither philosophically nor scientifically speaking.[i] I argue in the paper, following theorist (and colleague here in the department) Neil Cocks’s formulation, that neuroscientific accounts of cognition recover and maintain thought as scan, brain and figure: an object of scrutiny and exchange.[ii] Therefore, these cognitivist and neuroscientific studies, as with children’s literature and childhood more widely, are about, as theorist Jacqueline Rose puts it, ‘a conception of both the child and the world as knowable in a direct and unmediated way, a conception which places the innocence of the child and a primary state of language and/ or culture in a close and mutually dependent relationship’.[iii]


[i] There have recently been heated debates about literary criticism that draws in evolutionary psychology (sometimes called ‘Literary Darwinism’); see, for instance, Thomas Karshan, ‘Evolutionary Criticism’, Essays in Criticism, LIX:4  (October 2009), 287-301 and Jonathan Kramnick, ‘Against Literary Darwinism’.

[ii] Neil Cocks, unpublished manuscript, February 2012 (quoted by kind permission); Cocks’s formulation here echoes Rose’s critique of the child and the unconscious as not ‘something separate which can be scrutinised and assessed’ (The Case of Peter Pan, p. 13). For Cocks’s wider critique of cognitivism, neuroscience and evolutionary psychology see: Neil Cocks, Student-Centred: Education, Freedom and the Idea of Audience (Ashby-de-la-Zouch, 2009).

[iii] Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan (London: Macmillan), p. 9.

About Cindy

Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading. Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
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