Back Cover Blurb
- Chemically Imbalanced is a field report on how ordinary people facing everyday struggles explain their suffering, and the ways they adapt to it — or, increasingly, try to solve it. Drawing on extensive interviews, Joseph E. Davis reveals that a profound revolution in consciousness is underway. We now see suffering as an imbalance in the brain that needs to be fixed, usually through chemical means. And instead of examining our mental lives and interpersonal experiences, we are taking up the mechanistic language of biology. This approach has rippled into our social and cultural conversations, and it has affected how we, as a society, imagine ourselves and envision what constitutes a good life. Davis warns that what we see as a neurological revolution, in which suffering is a mechanistic problem, has troubling and entrapping consequences. Turning away from an interpretive, meaning-making view of ourselves blinds us to the social dimensions of our struggles and undermines important truths about our moral freedom and the place of self-knowledge in a well-lived life.
- “Suffering is that experience that seems to escape the bounds of our rational explanations and of the science mobilized to cure it. Chemically Imbalanced documents the ways in which neurobiological metaphors have taken hold of such experience of suffering, reducing it to a mechanical response to the world. This book is an urgent and much-needed addition to our understanding of the many ways in which social control is exerted through the control of suffering. It will compel us to ask questions about the very nature of therapy”
→ Eva Illouz author of The End of Love and Manufacturing Happy Citizens
- “Davis's Chemically Imbalanced tackles a profound issue. Twenty years ago, most of us would have figured people always have and always will explain themselves and what they do in terms of reasons and motives. It was inconceivable we might think in terms of some glitch. Now, as Davis shows, many of us figure it’s natural to think in terms of glitches that can be adjusted with meds, the way you might manage your eyesight. In this illuminating book, Davis doesn’t force an explanation for this change down our throats, but he will leave readers wondering just how this happened and what, if anything, we should be doing about it.”
→ David Healy, author of Pharmageddon and Let Them Eat Prozac
- Joseph E. Davis is research professor of sociology and moderator of the Picturing the Human colloquy of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Accounts of Innocence: Sexual Abuse, Trauma, and the Self, also from the University of Chicago Press, and co-editor, most recently, of To Fix or to Heal: Patient Care, Public Health, and the Limits of Biomedicine.
Amazon Book Description
- Everyday suffering — those conditions or feelings brought on by trying circumstances that arise in everyone’s lives — is something that humans have grappled with for millennia. But the last decades have seen a drastic change in the way we approach it. In the past, a person going through a time of difficulty might keep a journal or see a therapist, but now the psychological has been replaced by the biological: instead of treating the heart, soul, and mind, we take a pill to treat the brain.
- Chemically Imbalanced is a field report on how ordinary people dealing with common problems explain their suffering, how they’re increasingly turning to the thin and mechanistic language of the “body/brain,” and what these encounters might tell us. Drawing on interviews with people dealing with struggles such as underperformance in school or work, grief after the end of a relationship, or disappointment with how their life is unfolding, Joseph E. Davis reveals the profound revolution in consciousness that is underway. We now see suffering as an imbalance in the brain that needs to be fixed, usually through chemical means. This has rippled into our social and cultural conversations, and it has affected how we, as a society, imagine ourselves and envision what constitutes a good life. Davis warns that what we envision as a neurological revolution, in which suffering is a mechanistic problem, has troubling and entrapping consequences. And he makes the case that by turning away from an interpretive, meaning-making view of ourselves, we thwart our chances to enrich our souls and learn important truths about ourselves and the social conditions under which we live.
Preface – xi
Introduction – 1
- The Neurobiological Imaginary – 18
- The Biologization of Everyday Suffering – 42
- Appropriating Disorder – 70
- Resisting Differentness – 97
- Seeking Viable Selfhood – 123
- After Psychology – 150
Conclusion: A Crisis of the Spirit – 176
Acknowledgments – 187
Appendix – 189
Notes – 193
Bibliography – 221
Index – 237
Preface (Full Text)
- We have all heard the story. The brain is the last scientific frontier and the unraveling of its mysteries is playing an increasingly central role in how we understand the world and ourselves. Breathless reports in the popular press and in the best-selling writing of scientists inform us that we are in the midst of a revolution, entering a new and enlightened era in which many of our most persistent human problems will be conquered. Biological explanations of mental life are sweeping away long-standing philosophical problems — mind-body and nature-nurture — and the vexing enigmas of human subjectivity and consciousness. Significant advances in genetics, biochemistry, and neuroscience are yielding breakthroughs in the understanding of neural mechanisms and the physiology of human thought, emotion, and behavior. Psychiatry, breaking free of its psychological past, is becoming "clinical neuroscience" and will soon transform the way it treats mental disorders. The days of the old "folk psychology" and such long outdated notions as the soul are finally coming to an end.
- That is the story, and judging from the book sales figures, positive media coverage, and other evidence over the past several decades, neurobiological accounts of mind, self, and behavior have been eagerly embraced by the general public. Why? The enthusiastic reception, it seems safe to say, is not in response to the discrediting of the old philosophies, or the appearance of new treatments, or the scientific discovery of new phenomena. Though there are countless new insights, the reality is far more pedestrian than the hype. There is little settled knowledge of disorders or treatments or the relationship of mind to body. In fact, many of the claims about the relation of mind and mental states to brain are not really scientific at all and cannot themselves be tested in any empirical way. They rest not so much on a theory as on changed assumptions about human being. While the promise of neuroscience responds to a widespread yearning for concreteness and a promise of unambiguous solutions to intractable problems, the explanatory force of its insights and their actual productivity is not nearly enough to explain the public appeal.
- Something else, something in our common culture, is afoot. This book is a field report on how ordinary people dealing with painful everyday struggles with loss and failure and limitation engage with the new and psychologically depthless talk of neurobiology. These encounters, in turn, serve as a kind of stethoscope on our underlying condition, on a change in the way that we imagine ourselves and how to get on in our world.
University of Chicago Press (10 Mar. 2020)
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