- The politics of plasticity: Sex and gender in the 21st century brain
- Award date
- 21 October 2016
- Number of pages
- Document type
- PhD thesis
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
The Politics of Plasticity examines how sex and gender are imag(in)ed in the 21st century brain. At the beginning of this century, the idea that the brain is plastic (i.e. that its structure and function change throughout life) began to replace the idea that adult brains are fixed. The claim that sex differences are hardwired into the brain, however, is still frequently endorsed. Building on feminist critiques of this claim, this dissertation argues that plasticity offers a critical alternative perspective on how sex/gender comes to matter in the brain – a perspective that takes into account both discursive formation and bodily materiality. This study also investigates to what extent plasticity has already been incorporated into scientific, political and popular representations of sex/gender and the brain, and to what extent these representations subvert, transform and/or preserve familiar gender norms. Examples from education, parenting, and mental healthcare demonstrate that in the 21st century brain, plasticity is generally recognized as a property of male and female brains. Brain sex itself, however, continues to be seen as a natural essence that remains fixed throughout life. This fusion of determinism and plasticity, it is argued in this thesis, gives rise to a neoliberal, post-feminist subject who is bound by her sex, yet free (responsible, even) to pursue her supposedly limitless potential. The analysis presented here suggests that (re)thinking the sexed/gendered subject as a neuroplastic subject might foster norms, values and subjectivities that are antithetical to a critical feminist perspective.
- Research conducted at: Universiteit van Amsterdam
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