Accepted Paper:

Subjective technologies and biosubjectivities: The entanglement of questionnaires and molecular genetics in the ontology of autism  


Gregory Hollin (University of Leeds)

Paper short abstract:

Here I discuss a shift in understandings of autism and argue that autism is providing a language through which to understand all humans rather than demarcate a clinical population. I argue that this shift can be understood as a response to the reliance upon both mundane and emerging technologies.

Paper long abstract:

In this talk I argue there has been a significant and recent shift in understandings of autism. In decades past autism signified an absence; a qualitatively distinct state characterised by empathetic and social dysfunction. Today autism increasing marks a presence; a normally distributed and quantifiable trait applicable, in varying degrees, to all individuals within the general population. I argue that this contemporary understanding of autism is facilitated by the ready availability of questionnaires assessing the number of 'autistic traits' exhibited by any individual. These questionnaires were frequently developed for studies in molecular genetics; the inability to find genetic markers for autism in the 1990s meant that studies in the new millennium increasingly relied upon parents and other relatives in order to examine 'endophenotypes'; traits far below the clinical threshold but which could, it was hoped, be mapped onto specific parts of the genome and taken back to the clinic. After development, however, these quick and easy to administer questionnaires have been used to understand the social behaviours of those with no relationship to autism - for example, the loneliness of college students - and, thus, facilitate a striking and novel 'ontology of the self'. This talk, therefore, discusses and historicizes the boundary between 'normal' and 'abnormal' in psychiatry and clinical psychology as well as the boundary between 'developed' and 'emerging' technologies arguing that, in the case of autism at least, these technologies are better understood as part of a single, contemporary, apparatus.

Panel T096
Emerging biotechnologies in psychiatry and clinical psychology