The 2017 ASCA Awards Committee--Aukje van Rooden, Carolyn Birdsall and Irene Villaescusa Illán--gave awards to Annelies Kleinherenbrink, Matthé Scholten and Boris Noordenbos. Special attention went to Joost de Bloois.
Annelies thesis studies the role of neuroplasticity in scientific, political and popular conceptualizations of sex differences in the brain. Her dissertation starts by telling “a story of two brains” through which she sets the stage to question the biological determinism that considers the female and male brain to be a hardwired muscle or, on the contrary, a plastic organ subject to transformation by culture. Her argument is positioned within the second discourse. In considering the gendered/sexed subject a neuroplastic subject, she analyses from a postfeminist point of view how gender ideologies are established. Annelies’ thesis successfully shows the promises and the perils of ‘neurofeminism’ within neoliberal societies in which women still engage with intense self-surveillance and self-disciplining and asks, therefore, what is the use of neuroplasticity as a feminist tool.
In order to analyze how neoliberal gender ideologies are aligned with neuroplasticity the study looks at three public areas: education, parenting and mental health, providing a rich insight on how these discourses come together in gendering the brain. The Politics of Plasticity gathers strong arguments that challenge dominant popular and scientific discourses on contemporary issues such as gender schooling, innate motherhood behavior and mental conditions such as schizophrenia. She successfully shows that investigations on schizophrenic individuals (men and women), considered to be genetically determined, can benefit from an analysis of sociocultural risks (not only their gendered experiences but also class and ethnicity) that have an impact on the brain. She thus demonstrates how the politics of brain plasticity work.
Annelies’ thesis navigates with ease among medical, sociological, historical, and feminist theory. In doing so, her dissertation is a polyphonic piece of work that shows how research can be invigorated by the braiding of scientific and cultural perspectives.
The 2017 ASCA Article Award goes to Matthé Scholten’s article ‘Schizophrenia and Moral Responsibility: A Kantian Essay’, which stands out because of its theoretical rigor and its careful consideration of everyday practice. The paper deals with the issue of moral responsibility in cases of mental disorder, especially within the schizophrenia spectrum. Are patients suffering from delusions blameworthy for their acts when they, for instance, violently attack their relatives? And if not, why exactly should they be exempted from moral responsibility?
Scholten’s main reference is Kant. The choice for this eighteenth century philosopher might not seem to be the most obvious one, given that Kant is known as much for his uncompromising premises as he is for his high level of abstraction. Scholten’s paper, however, makes a plausible case for the relevance of Kantian ethics in discussing moral responsibility in cases of schizophrenia, not only by carefully assessing existing scholarship, but also by taking into account the largely-overlooked works written by Kant on mental disorder.
Being faithful to his métier as a philosopher, Scholten does not so much argue in favor or against exemption from moral responsibility, but first and foremost elucidates on what grounds such an exemption would be appropriate or valid. By doing so in a very thorough, sophisticated, and well-argued manner, his paper not only convincingly proves the relevance of Kantian ethics today, but also more generally proves the relevance of philosophical theorization for a better understanding of real life cases.
The 2017 ASCA Book Award is granted to Boris Noordenbos’ monograph Post-Soviet Literature and the Search for a Russian Identity (2016), which makes a decisive intervention in the existing theorizations of Russian literature of the past twenty-five years. In his treatment of post-Soviet uncertainty about national identity, Noordenbos notes that after 1991, Russians wondered what a new, post-imperial Russian identity could be based on. Cultural or racial principles, standards of citizenship, linguistic criteria or something else?
In order to examine the ongoing process in reimagining cultural identity in the post-Soviet era, Noordenbos proposes to re-examine two major literary corpora: the relativist and ‘postmodernist’ scepticism about national identity in the years around 1991, and the ‘neo-imperialist’ literary fashion around 2000, which produced fantasies (and ironic overstatements) about the return of a unified and non-Western “Russian identity”. Noordenbos not only emphasises the historical and political background to these literary developments, but convincingly argues that this interest in nation and empire is “driven by an aesthetic dynamic.” The two parts of Noordenbos’ well-researched and rich study, each with three chapters, significantly revise trauma theory and post-colonial theory; two fields that have been uncritically or under-deployed in analyses of Russian culture, literature and identity.
An exemplary piece of cultural analysis, Noordenbos’ monograph produces new concepts and theoretical perspectives on post-1991 literature and elucidates how such literary engagements with post-Soviet insecurities about Russian identity have repercussions for the political fantasies and historical imaginaries of the present, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.
The committee would like to make a special mention of Joost de Bloois’ In de naam van het Maagdenhuis. Amsterdam: Editie Leesmagazijn, 2016. De Bloois’ essay makes an important contribution to understanding how the Maagdenhuis occupation in early 2015 was significant beyond its immediate context, with an analysis organised around key terms of neoliberalism, cognitive capitalism, precarity, debt, and democracy. De Bloois’ publication warrants praise as a theoretically-rich and engaged work of cultural analysis.