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Talk Identity, Identification, and the Brain

  • July 08, 2009
  • Emily Martin

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Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with Americans who are living under the description of bipolar disorder in many different life circumstances, I consider the range of ways in which people express relationships with their brains. In one form, which might be called "identity,"people insist upon a reductionist view in which they see the brain as a physical mechanism separate from their own intentional actions. Comfortably separated from their "bad" brains, this way of imagining the brain sometimes facilitates identity politics based on a variety of mental "disorders." In another form, which might be called "identification," people reject reductionist views and explore a more complex and emotionally ambivalent relationship with their brains. Using insights into the psychoanalytic understanding of identification, as opposed to identity, I suggest that these different views can lead to distinct social consequences for those living with a "bad" bipolar brain.

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