Limitless? Imaginaries of cognitive enhancement and the labouring body

Bloomfield, Brian and Dale, Karen (2020) Limitless? Imaginaries of cognitive enhancement and the labouring body. History of the Human Sciences, 33 (5). pp. 37-63. ISSN 0952-6951

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This article seeks to situate pharmacological cognitive enhancement as part of a broader relationship between cultural understandings of the body-brain and the political economy. It is the body of the worker that forms the intersection of this relationship and through which it comes to be enacted and experienced. In this article, we investigate the imaginaries that both inform and are reproduced by representations of pharmacological cognitive enhancement, drawing on cultural sources such as newspaper articles and films, policy documents, and pharmaceutical marketing material to illustrate our argument. Through analysis of these diverse cultural sources, we argue that the use of pharmaceuticals has come to be seen not only as a way to manage our brains, but through this as a means to manage our productive selves, and thereby to better manage the economy. We develop three analytical themes. First, we consider the cultural representations of the brain in connection with the idea of plasticity – captured most graphically in images of morphing - and the representation of enhancement as a desirable, inevitable, and almost painless process in which the mind-brain realizes its full potential and asserts its will over matter. Following this, we explore the social value accorded to productive employment and the contemporary (biopolitical) ethos of working on or managing oneself, particularly in respect of improving one’s productive performance through cognitive enhancement. Developing this, we elaborate a third theme by looking at the moulding of the worker’s productive body-brain in relation to the demands of the economic system.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
History of the Human Sciences
Additional Information:
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, History of the Human Sciences, 33 (5), 2020, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2019 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the History of the Human Sciences page: on SAGE Journals Online:
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? biopoliticscognitive enhancementimaginaries‘smart drugs’the productive bodyhistory and philosophy of sciencehistory ??
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Deposited On:
05 Dec 2019 11:45
Last Modified:
19 May 2024 00:40