Neurosociety Conference: What is it with the brain these days?

Past Event

07 December 2010, 10:00am 08 December 2010 - 1:00am

Said Business School
Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HP

The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) and the European Neuroscience and Society Network (ENSN) are jointly organising an international conference on 7-8 December 2010 at Oxford's Saïd Business School.

Speakers include:

Professor Steve Woolgar (Oxford) Professor Nikolas Rose (London School of Economics) Professor Nigel Thrift (Warwick University) Professor Paul Wouters (Erasmus University Rotterdam) Professor Sabine Maasen (University of Basel) Dr Jonathan Rowson (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)) Professor Gemma Calvert (Warwick University; Neurosense)

The topic of the conference is the rise of the brain and the emergence of the brain industry or ‘neuro markets’. The aim is to explore how, why, and in what ways has the figure of the brain 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?

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 analyze 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.


1) 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?

2) 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.

3) 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.

There is no cost for the event, but accommodation and travel expenses are not provided.

For more information:
Contact co-convenor Dr. Tanja Schneider: