CfP (AAA 2019): Reworking the Cognitive Bias in and out of Biomedicine

This year, we at Somatosphere are trying an experiment in academic mentorship. Two of our regular contributors and editorial collaborative members, Emily Yates-Doerr and Matthew Wolf-Meyer, are hosting a panel designed to ease early-career anthropologists (broadly defined) into academic publishing. The idea is to bring together scholars interested in analyzing cognition or cognitive-related practices ethnographically (see the CFP below), with an eye toward publishing a series at Somatosphere in the following year. To that end, Emily and Matthew have committed to working with the panelists to turn their papers into Somatosphere posts. Additionally, there’s the possibility that the group will continue to work together in an effort to put together a special issue of a journal on a related theme, potentially reworking the Somatosphere posts into article-length manuscripts.

The panel will have room for 4-5 panelists in addition to Emily and Matthew’s discussant roles. If we receive enough papers for an additional panel, we hope to recruit two additional Somatosphere editors to serve as discussants for a second panel. If you are interested in participating, please send a preliminary abstract to Emily and Matthew. (;

Our hope is that this experiment will provide a model for future mentorship activities through Somatosphere and the AAA generally.

Reworking the Cognitive Bias in and out of Biomedicine

AAA 2019

“Instinct,” “behavior,” “impulse,” “drive,” “habit,” “addiction.” Medicine has an expansive lexicon to conceptualize how and why humans act, much of which is centered upon biologically determinant mechanisms of experience. Additionally, humans are described as suffering from cognitive “impairments” and “decline,” which localize sociality in the changing matter of the brain and confine development and disability to inevitable, linear biological conditions. In this panel, we bring together anthropologists engaged in debates that query our “thinking” about thinking, to rework the cognitive bias in and out of biomedicine. Such approaches might include ethnographies of patients and practitioners that explore the relations between brains, bodies, and environments; they may also include engagements with individuals and communities invested in disrupting cognitive biases outside of medicalized contexts. Across the cases, we hope to highlight experimental and experiential situations that help to reimagine the brain as the site of cognition and neuroreductive approaches to action. In borrowing “imagination” to do this work, we want to highlight how engagements with thinking about thinking can usefully undo neuro- and psy- orthodoxies; can we reclaim and reterritorialize the imaginative field of thought and cognition through ethnographic engagements with alternative, creative, and experimental situations? We hope to encourage a renewed anthropological interest in the socio-material shaping of action in order to usefully interfere with existing models of body-environment connections. The panel aspires to push considerations of responsibility, obligation, and care away from classifications of “good” and “bad,” “social” and “anti-social,” “human” and “animal,”  and towards other generative ways of apprehending social action and relations.

Possible topics include:

-practices that are seen as shaping particular kinds of bodily and mental capacities, which may include diet, meditation, exercise, legal and illegal drug use, etc.

-relationships between individuals, communities, and their consumption practices that shape their apperception of the world

-attempts on the part of experts and lay people to develop techniques and technologies for shaping cognitive capacities

-engagements with disabled communities and individuals who challenge normative and ableist models of cognition

-multi-species and STS ethnographic approaches to more-than-human worlds and how they shape human processes associated with cognition

-para-ethnographies of experts in and out of the social sciences who are developing models of human action that move beyond neuroreductive conceptions of behavior

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