About this Research Topic
Findings in the field of neuroscience contribute important insights into the study of differences in human behavior. Yet, they are also powerful tools in producing human differences, not least those related to sex, gender, and sexuality, which inform both popular opinion and public policy. Observations of neural correlates of gender are often interpreted as evidence of causal, neurobiological effects of predetermined differences between men and women, ignoring the impact of the binary gender concept prevalent in society. When scientists import the category gender – and more often, the reputed category “sex” – into empirical neuroscientific research, they often do so in reductionist and essentialist ways. A new emphasis in distinguishing male and female brains has emerged, particularly visible in the widespread public circulation of scientific images.
In this context, an increasing number of scholars has problematized the current body of neuroscientific research that proposes to find essential sex/gender differences in the human brain. Drawing on approaches developed in feminist science and technology studies, feminist and queer studies scholars have identified misleading assumptions and biases in neuroscientific research that have the power to shape narratives about gender differences. Their studies reveal significant conceptual and methodological flaws that may obstruct more nuanced bio-cultural perspectives in contemporary neuroscience. Exploring alternative approaches of the relation between gender, sex and the material brain, feminist scholars have proposed new tools, models and experimental designs. For example, experimental designs that take neuroplasticity or the concept of mosaic brains – incorporating socio-environmental variables like gender socialization. In spite of these significant sociologically-informed theoretical and methodological recommendations by feminist scholars, such proposals are under-used or haphazardly implemented in studies of the neuroscience of sex and gender.
Critical interventions and conceptual frames coming from post-colonial, queer, trans, and black feminist intersectional research have taken important steps to expose biases and to propose alternative approaches in sex/gender research. Nevertheless, researchers have yet to develop comprehensive analyses in the field of neuroscience that include the tangled impacts and lived experiences of disability, race, sexuality, age and class. Attending to the interplay of various kinds of positionalities and embodiments is of fundamental importance to do justice to the plurality and complexity of human experience and to question practices of categorization. This is especially relevant during the current rise of the subfield of “cultural neuroscience”, which proposes new pathways into universalist research (studying the biological foundation for cultures) and foregrounds studies of cultural difference.
The aim of this Research Topic is to advance new approaches to interdisciplinary research in the field of sex/gender and the brain, with a specific interest in marginalized perspectives and approaches.
We welcome contributions that address the issue of interdisciplinarity in the field of sex/gender and the brain in relation (but not limited) to:
- The impact of established norms in experimental design and data gathering and reporting on research in sex/gender and the brain;
- Historical studies that report on emerging and disappearing notions of sex/gender, disability, race, sexuality, age and class in the field of sex/gender research in neuroscience and that help to understand current research practices;
- Notions of self-reflexivity and the possibility to address social circumstances, political interests and power relations in researching sex/gender in neuroscience;
- Examples of research that study categories of gender and sexuality as performative processes;
- Examination of the institutional norms and informal practices that enable or limit the implementation of improved research tools and interdisciplinary perspectives in experimental design; and
- Current scholarship and critical engagements with the way in which the concept of intersectionality is (mis)applied to study entanglements of race, sexuality, age and class in the field of sex/gender research in neuroscience.
Keywords: Intersectionality, Interdisciplinarity, Socialization, Neuro-plasticity, Methodology, Sex/Gender, Critical Neuroscience
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.