Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Dr. Brian Glaser

Second Advisor

Morgan Read-Davidson

Third Advisor

Dr. Anna Leahy


Medical imaging devices have enabled doctors to render images of the brain without cutting into the body. These images are colloquially called “brain scans.” Through journalism and mass dissemination online, brain scans have become an example of Michael Calvin McGee’s “ideograph,” a language term that subtly takes on outsized political and symbolic meaning to enforce state power. In conversation with theories of new materialism, I situate the brain scan as an ideograph within Jenny Edbauer’s model of rhetorical ecologies. The rhetorical force of the brain scan comes out of a collision between René Descarte’s mind/body dualism, the medical model of disability, and the liberal discourse of madness. As predicted by Michel Foucault’s theories of biopower and Falguni Sheth’s theories of madness and racialization, the production of “normal” and “abnormal” categories legitimizes forcible intervention from the state. Psychiatry justifies limiting the civil rights of abnormal or “ill” by arguing the difference in the body—the brain—eliminates the mind. If the “mind” is not present, then it is not a crime to imprison or abuse the bodies of neurodivergent people. The brain scan becomes the ideograph and material document that reifies the state’s discourse on mental illness. The rhetoric science through materialist eliminationism then defends the brain scan from criticism. To respect the lives of neurodivergent people, we should reevaluate psychiatry and neuroscience through Bruno Latour’s critiques of scientific knowledge and Isabelle Stenger’s call for “risky” research. A post-human approach to the question of consciousness will allow us to reconsider current models of mental illness, justice, and accountability.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
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