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Target America: visual culture, neuroimaging and the “hijacked brain” theory of addiction

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Past and Present
Issue numberSuppl. 9
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)207-226
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date17/09/13
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The ‘hijacked brain theory’ currently dominates both popular and scientific thinking about addiction, supported by the extensive dissemination of visual evidence produced by digital brain scanning technologies. This essay places this most recent attempt to ‘see’ addiction into its broader historical context by looking at the visual means scientists, bureaucrats and politicians have used to explain their ideas about the condition. In doing so, the essay offers a critical perspective on a logic that creates narrative sense out of the visual evidence offered by brain scan images. Further, the metaphor of hijacking, is far from an innocent choice in post-September 11 America. The essay therefore examines a second, closely related, body of visual evidence: installations and exhibits from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s exhibition, ‘Target America: Terrorists, Traffickers and You.’ This essay concludes that recent findings in the neuroscience of addiction—particularly the theory of the ‘hijacked brain’—are very much embedded in the broader cultural and political history that helped to produce them.