Visions of unification and integration: Building brains and communities in the European Human Brain Project

Tara Mahfoud*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


The Human Brain Project (HBP) was launched in October 2013 by the European Commission to build an information and communication technology infrastructure that would support large-scale brain modelling and simulation. Less than a year after its launch, more than 800 neuroscientists signed a letter that claimed the HBP ‘would fail to meet its goals’. Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork conducted between February 2014 and January 2017 in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the HBP headquarters in Switzerland, and over 40 interviews with scientists, engineers and project administrators, this article traces how competing visions over how brain models should be built became tied into debates over how scientific communities should be governed. Articulations of these different kinds of models and communities appealed to competing imaginaries of Europe itself – of Europe and European science as unified or pluralistic. This article argues that scientific models are sites of contestation over social and political futures. The tensions between visions of scientific unification and pluralism in the HBP mirrored the tensions between imaginaries of European political unification and pluralism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-343
Number of pages22
JournalNew Media and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Controversy
  • Europe
  • imaginaries
  • information and communication technology
  • integration
  • neuroscience
  • unification
  • vision


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