Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity

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By showing us the human brain at work, PET (positron emission tomography) scans are subtly–and sometimes not so subtly–transforming how we think about our minds. Picturing Personhood follows this remarkable and expensive technology from the laboratory into the world and back. It examines how PET scans are created and how they are being called on to answer myriad questions with far-reaching implications: Is depression an observable brain disease? Are criminals insane? Do men and women think differently? Is rationality a function of the brain?

Based on interviews, media analysis, and participant observation at research labs and conferences, Joseph Dumit analyzes how assumptions designed into and read out of the experimental process reinforce specific notions about human nature. Such assumptions can enter the process at any turn, from selecting subjects and mathematical models to deciding which images to publish and how to color them. Once they leave the laboratory, PET scans shape social debates, influence courtroom outcomes, and have positive and negative consequences for people suffering mental illness. Dumit follows this complex story, demonstrating how brain scans, as scientific objects, contribute to our increasing social dependence on scientific authority.

The first book to examine the cultural ramifications of brain-imaging technology, Picturing Personhood is an unprecedented study that will influence both cultural studies and the growing field of science and technology studies.

Picturing Personhood at Princeton University Press

Series: In-Formation

(Reviewed in American Anthropologist; Annual Review of Anthropology; Bulletin of the History of Medicine; Current Anthropology; Lancet Neurology; Medical Anthropology Quarterly; Science; Science, Technology & Human Values; Theory & Psychology).

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2004

Dumit, Joseph. 2004. Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity, Princeton University Press.

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»Cyborg Anthropology

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The text of a paper we presented at the 1992 Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco. It represents a first attempt at positioning cyborg anthropology in a late capitalist world that situates academic theorizing alongside popular theorizing. We view cyborg anthropology as a descriptive label that marks a cultural project rather Continue reading…

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»Fascia Movement Research Lab (Dumit & O’Connor)

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STS.175 Laboratory Studies Lab (Special Fall 2015 Course, limited to 19 students) Fascia Movement Research Lab (led by Prof. Joseph Dumit & Kevin O’Connor) Science & Technology Studies (STS) is the study of how science, technology, and medicine change. Laboratory studies involves participant observation in research labs to understand how facts are negotiated, crafted, and Continue reading…

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