Accepted paper:

Knowledge, evidence and anthropological thinking in Scottish autism support services: reflections on a programme of practitioner research


Joseph Long (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I explore the ways in which the methodological and theoretical paradigms of anthropology can contribute to and gain from research in autism support services. The paper reflects upon experience coordinating a practitioner research programme in services in Scotland.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I suggest ways in which the methodological and theoretical paradigms of anthropology can both contribute to and gain from research in autism services: in providing a methodology for understanding autism in its social context; in engaging definitions of knowledge useful in recognising and circulating knowledge about Autism; and as a field that can inform theoretical discussions about normative models of sociality. Firstly, I outline the value of ethnographic methods for contextualised research on the lived experience of autism. In a field dominated by clinical models for research, I stress the importance of collaborative methods that take seriously the perspectives of support staff, families and service-users for improving service provision. Secondly, I show the utility of anthropologically-informed understandings of situated knowledge and evidence for drawing upon the experiences of support practitioners and parents in evaluating support strategies. I illustrate the value of practitioner-researchers as ethnographers taking the lead in this process. Finally, I reflect upon the challenges in researching a condition often described as featuring impairments in imagination, interaction and empathy. I note the implicit centrality of these qualities to ethnographic research and suggest that working in autism services requires creative means of engaging these qualities. This involves recognising forms of imagination and communication that throw implicitly normative models of sociality into relief. Consequently, I suggest some ways in which applied projects on autism might speak to wider theoretical concerns with imagination, intimacy and sociality within anthropology.

panel P33
Facing outwards: anthropology beyond academia (a panel convened by the ASA's Apply Network)