Blame the Brain

Neuroscience for Action in Criminal Courtrooms

  • Alex Yijia Ding University of Chicago


This article outlines the significance of some major STS theorists (Latour 1993, Galison 1997, Dumit 2004, Haraway 1991, Knorr-Cetina 1999) as a means of examining the ways in which STS perspectives can, if integrated into criminal courtrooms, enrich our understanding of contemporary neuroscience and society. In this paper, I trace the co-production of neuroscientific and legal knowledges through a study of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans in criminal courtrooms. In following the social life of such brain scans, I demonstrate how brain images are assembled, how they travel from one context (e.g. a lab) to another (e.g., a courtroom or a magazine), and how they are put to persuasive use in legal contexts. I argue law-science interactions in the U.S. courtroom have become sites of epistemic contestations over meanings of truth, justice, personhood, and expert knowledges in U.S. society and politics. In reframing this epistemic contest towards a “serviceable truth” (Jasanoff 2015) of neurolegal knowledge in action, I conclude with insights as to how legal and neuroscientific experts and laypeople alike might navigate the uneven diffusion of knowledge in U.S. criminal proceedings.
Research Articles