Feminism and the Neurological Body


Book Pages: 136 Illustrations: 5 figures Published: June 2004

Cultural Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

How can scientific theories contribute to contemporary accounts of embodiment in the humanities and social sciences? In particular, how does neuroscientific research facilitate new approaches to theories of mind and body? Feminists have frequently criticized the neurosciences for biological reductionism, yet, Elizabeth A. Wilson argues, neurological theories—especially certain accounts of depression, sexuality, and emotion—are useful to feminist theories of the body. Rather than pointing toward the conventionalizing tendencies of the neurosciences, Wilson emphasizes their capacity for reinvention and transformation. Focusing on the details of neuronal connections, subcortical pathways, and reflex actions, she suggests that the central and peripheral nervous systems are powerfully allied with sexuality, the affects, emotional states, cognitive appetites, and other organs and bodies in ways not fully appreciated in the feminist literature. Whether reflecting on Simon LeVay’s hypothesis about the brains of gay men, Peter Kramer’s model of depression, or Charles Darwin’s account of trembling and blushing, Wilson is able to show how the neurosciences can be used to reinvigorate feminist theories of the body.


Psychosomatic is an engaging and ultimately highly significant contribution to feminist theorisations of the body.” — Pablo Schyfter , Metascience

“Wilson’s book is important for feminist scholars and others, including clinicians. . . . Like Abigail Adams reminding her husband not to forget the ladies, Wilson asks us not to forget the peripheral nervous system, biology, neurophysiology, biochemistry, muscles, organs, blood vessels and nerves when thinking through the body. Neurons speak. Let’s listen.” — Yael Goldman Baldwin , Theory and Psychology

“Wilson’s writing is eloquent, considered and thought provoking. . . . In one of her articles, Wilson urged her readers to buy a copy of The Origin of Species as an important feminist text. I certainly endorse this suggestion, but I add my own: buy a copy of Psychosomatic, as it may turn out to be one of the most inspiring feminist works you will read.” — Myra J. Hird , Feminist Theory

"[E]ngaging. . . . The eclectic nature of Wilson's argument and evidence is impressive, and she explains biological and psychological concepts side by side with apparent ease." — Annemarie E. Hamlin , Consciousness, Literature and the Arts

"[Wilson] shows how neuroscience research on creatures evolutionarily very distant from us still persistently raises questions pertinent to our own sense of self." — Raj Persaud , Brain

"The neurological body, that Wilson rescues from the myopic extremes of second-wave feminism, is bought back to life in a carefully argued and well-written work. . . . This is an important book because it moves positively towards bringing about a balance between the extremist views of the antibiologist ranting of certain second-wave feminist theories and the myopic view of absolute biological determinism." — Rob Harle , Leonardo Reviews

"Wilson's thesis is a good one. She argues that feminist theories of the body should consider neurological details in their accounts if they want to gain a more holistic understanding of the meaning of embodiment. This is both an innovative and timely challenge, especially in the context of the increasing interdisciplinarity in all domains of academia." — Leeat Granek , Feminism and Psychology

“It is quite a while since we have heard a voice as refreshing as that of Elizabeth A. Wilson. With boldness, wit, and extraordinary inventiveness, she shows us just how delimiting have been prevailing tendencies in science studies and feminist theory to marginalize, if not outright repudiate, the material, biological dimensions of human psychology. At the same time, by demonstrating the power of reading biological accounts with the eye of a critical theorist, she reveals the limitations operating within the life sciences. Psychosomatic teaches all of us how to do better: how to read neuroscience for the creative lessons it can offer the human sciences and how to employ the insights of the human sciences to open these same texts to dramatically new understandings.” — Evelyn Fox Keller, author of Making Sense of Life: Explaining Biological Development with Models, Metaphors, and Machines


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth A. Wilson is a Research Fellow at the Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney in Australia. She is the author of Neural Geographies: Feminism and the Microstructure of Cognition.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Somatic Compliance 1

1. Freud, Prozac, and Melancholic Neurology 15

2. The Brain in the Gut 31

3. Hypothalamic Preference: LeVay’s Study of Sexual Orientation 49

4. Trembling, Blushing: Darwin’s Nervous System 63

5. Emotional Lizards: Evolution and the Reptilian Brain 79

Notes 97

References 113

Index 123
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3365-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3356-2
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