Richard Milne and Joanna Latimer

Pathology’s Progress: Molecular Mobilities and the Neuroscientific Body

For some time psychological models of illness imagined how patients somatized troubles with no organic cause. Recently this way of thinking of somatisation has been inverted, with the central tension in neuroscience revolving around whether thoughts, emotions and personality can be placed or located in specific areas within the materialities of the brain (Rose and Abi-Rached 2013), with the effect of mind becoming body. Effects and symptoms, including memory loss, disorientation, dyspraxia and dyphasia, have been assembled as progressive neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and understood as the unfolding of deleterious change over time localised within specific areas of the brain (Lock 2013). Thus, the formation of the new neurosciences has rested to some extent upon the territorializing of the individual, bounded brain as the place where disease can be located, and, hopefully, intervened in.

Drawing on ethnographic work in a neuroscience laboratory, this paper charts a shift towards the mapping of neurodegeneration in terms of mobilities and the spatial ‘progress’ of pathological change through the topography of brain and body. The spatialisation of degeneration is associated with new laboratory practices and technologies and researchers’ imaginations of new ways of intervening in and disrupting disease processes. Moreover, ‘opening up’ localisation-based models of disease, re-situates the brain in relation to bodily flows and circulations and troubles the boundedness of the body of “non-communicable disease”. Dialogues are established or renewed with the inter-corporeal movements of spread, transmission and infection associated with classic epidemiology rather than neurodegeneration. The paper questions whether these processes of ‘regionalisation’, territorialization and deterriotorialization (Deleuze & Guttuari 1972) disrupt the notion of ‘a neuroscientific reality’ – and suggest there are multiple neuroscientific bodies in tension in the ways in which dementia, mind and brain are being assembled, disassembled and reassembled.