Control shift: a case for neuro-liberalism?

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Laurence, Jennifer and McCallum, David (2000) Control shift: a case for neuro-liberalism? In: Sociological Sites/Sights: TASA 2000 Conference, 6-8 December, 2000, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia.


The psy-sciences have a long history of anatomizing self-control in terms of the brain's capacity, as commanding organ of the nervous system, to exert its inhibiting influence over the reflexes of the lower order nervous activity. Those who exhibited gross anti-social behaviour were explained as at the mercy of their reflexes - 'lust without brains' or 'reflex machines'. We still speak of 'knee-jerk reaction' to gesture to the imprudence of an act. And 'lack of inhibition' remains a central concept in contemporary models of 'cognitive deficit'. But a new vocabulary and a new set of inscriptive devices have displaced those used to track problem behaviour, in lineal fashion, via the hierarchical conduits connecting stimulus to response. The flow chart displaces the anatomical diagram. Computer-generated imagery demonstrates the capacity of different areas of the brain to be held 'on line' in order to 'talk to one another'. The psychiatrist tells us that the child who kills has an undeveloped set of controls, resulting in an impairment in the cross-temporal processing of moment-to-moment awareness with an awareness of the long-term future. This paper mounts a genealogy of the inscriptive devices and metaphors deployed by cognitive science in its explication of the nature of self-control. It proposes that a new anatomy of self-control is emerging-one more amenable to the aspirations to neo-liberalism than a 'colonel-in-chief' model of conformity to order from above. The paper seeks the historical circumstances that allow for the possibility of a new political anatomy of the central nervous system. Finally, the paper asks what happens when we place a contemporary model of impaired information processing up against a newly emergent problem bedevilling experts and administrators - the problem of the child who shoots to kill.

Item type Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 380000 Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences
Historical > RFCD Classification > 220000 Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts-General
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords nervous system, brain, behaviour
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