Visions of unification and integration: an ethnography of the European Human Brain Project
Tara Mahfoud (King's College London)
Paper short abstract:
In this talk, I reflect on European values of integration and unification and how these are embodied in the vision of the Human Brain Project (HBP). Based on multi-sited fieldwork in the HBP, I ask: what can a study of the HBP, then, tell us about European integration and unification?
Paper long abstract:
In this talk, I reflect on European values of integration and unification and how these are embodied in the vision of the Human Brain Project - a 10-year project funded by the European Commission to build a data infrastructure for neuroscience research. 'Big Science' projects often promise to revolutionize knowledge production through "free and unfettered exchange" as Javier Lezaun put it, across national and institutional boundaries. The Human Brain Project has imagined a Europe without boundaries - ironically at a time when Europe's borders are being reinforced - where data flow freely between scientists, laboratories, institutions, and countries. I want to examine the politics of this frictionless vision of data integration and how it comes to life in the 'grip of encounter' as Anna Tsing would say. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork between 2014-2016 across European cities, I show that the process of building the cross-national data infrastructures to support the flow of data highlights missing data, discrepancies in experimental setups, inconsistencies in annotation - all moments of 'friction' between data, archives, and brain models. At stake in these encounters is a unitary or multiple future for the neurosciences - a singular Future Neuroscience or many Neurofutures. What can studying the Human Brain Project, then, tell us about European integration and unification?
- Discovery, discussion and decision