28 SES 12, The Promises and Dangers of the New Biological Turn in Education
This symposium brings international sociologists of education (representing Australia, Canada, UK, Finland and Denmark) to explore the place of the new biological sciences in education policy, practice and research in Europe and globally. The symposium will engage with the new biological turn in education from a range of perspectives. It will set up a dialogue between analysis that offers an account of the dangers of the take up of new biosciences in education, and analysis that suggests that interdisciplinary engagements across sociology of education, and education more broadly, and life sciences are both necessary and potentially beneficial in education.
The relationship between, particularly, sociology of education and the life sciences has not been a comfortable one. Scholars within the sociology of education point to the legacy of eugenics, and the continued racism and deficit accounts embedded in engagements with biology (Chitty, 2007; Gillborn 2016). Yet despite these well-grounded concerns, we are at a juncture in sociology of education, and educational studies, where a confluence of movements in policy, biological sciences, and sociology itself are suggesting the pressing need for sociology and biology to re-engage each other. Some scholars in education, gender and science studies are beginning to suggest, not just the dangers but also the positive potential of working across social and biological domains (Frost, 2016; Meloni, 2016; Youdell, 2016).
The need to examine the promises and dangers of the new biological turn in education is evident as contemporary societies are constituted by and contend with new forms of biological and neurological thinking. Biology has become intertwined with biopolitics. Fields such as epigenetics and neuroscience have entered popular discourse (Carey, 2012; Doidge, 2007) and especially neuroscience has functioned as a new rationality for regulation and governmental practices, and social policy, including education policy. Furthermore, the combination of academic study and policy-use produce an emerging set of implications relating to new developments in life sciences and raise questions concerning, for example, citizenship, subjectivity and policy-making (Pickersgill, 2013; Pykett, 2015; Rose, 2013).
Other scholars contend that these same issues mean that a biosocial orientation that acknowledges the fundamental inseparability of the biological and social (and psychic and cultural) is essential, if we are to effectively interrogate the folding together of the social, cultural, biographical, pedagogic, political, affective, neurological, and biological in the interactive production of students and learning (Frost 2016; Roberts 2015; Youdell 2015). In education this means extending a concern with institutional and classroom practices, pedagogies and subjectivation to incorporate a wider set of forces including the workings of the molecular body and its intra-action with environment. As such biosocial education might be said to take ‘education’, ‘pedagogy’, the ‘teacher’ and the ‘learner’ as phenomena produced through the intra-action of a diverse field of forces that includes the mechanisms and functions of the molecular body (Youdell 2016).
Against this backdrop, the papers in this symposium will explore connections between neuroscience and mindfulness in education; propose different biosocial ways of understanding stress in education; consider the links between artificial intelligence, neuroscience and education; and examine the links between bioinformatics, computing and education policy. The papers will show how there are multiple orientations to the ‘problem’ of the life sciences in education, and facilitate exchange across the range of orientations to the new biology. As such, the symposium offers a novel and nuanced engagement with the emerging areas of bisociality in education.
This symposium aims to provide an exploration of the possibility of articulating sociological analyses of the biopolitics of new bio-rationalites and attempts within sociology of education to develop frameworks and methodologies for biosocial investigations of and interventions into enduring educational inequalities.
Carey, N. (2012). The epigenetics revolution: How modern biology is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease, and inheritance. New York: Columbia University Press. Chitty, C. (2007). Eugenics, race and intelligence in education. London: Continuum. Doidge, N. (2007). The brain the changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Melbourne: Penguin. Frost, S. (2016). Biocultural creatures: Towards a new theory of the human. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press. Gillborn, D. (2016). Softly, softly: genetics, intelligence and the hidden racism of the new geneism. Journal of Education Policy. doi:10.1080/02680939.2016.1139189 Meloni, M. (2016). Political biology: Science and social values in human heredity from eugenics to epigenetics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Pickersgill, M. (2013). The social life of the brain: Neuroscience in society. Current Sociology, 61(3), 322-340. doi:10.1177/0011392113476464 Pykett, J. (2015). Brain culture: Shaping policy through neuroscience. Bristol: Policy Press. Rose, N. (2013). The human sciences in a biological age. Theory, Culture & Society, 30(1), 3-34. doi:10.1177/0263276412456569 Youdell, D. (2016). New biological sciences, sociology and education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 37(5), 788-800. doi:10.1080/01425692.2016.1184406
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