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Tracing autism: ambiguity and difference in a neuroscientific research practice

Fitzgerald, Des (2012) Tracing autism: ambiguity and difference in a neuroscientific research practice. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

Tracing Autism is about neuroscientists’ on-going search for a brain-based biomarker for autism. While much recent sociological work has looked at the ‘cerebralization’ of such diverse diagnostic categories as depression, bipolar disorder, psychopathy, addiction, and even autism itself, surprisingly little light has yet been shed on the mundane ways that researchers in the new brain sciences actually think about, reason through, and hold together neurological accounts of complex and emerging diagnostic entities. Situating itself within a series of interviews with neuroscientists who work on the autism spectrum, one of the most enigmatic, recalcitrant and unresolved categories of contemporary neuroscience, Tracing Autism is an attempt to fill this gap. The key argument is that while this work might be seen as a process of gradual ‘neurobiologization’ or neuromedicalization,’ talking to autism neuroscientists reveals a practice much more complex, much more ambiguous, much less monolithic, and also much less certain, than the sociological literature yet fully realizes. The thesis shows how autism neuroscience works by tracing its way across some very different and ambiguous commitments – carefully negotiating the space between the biological and diagnostic definitions of autism, the hope and disappointment of neuroimaging technology, as well as the intellectual and visceral commitments of laboratory research. Locating itself within a recent turn to theorising the entanglement of cultural and biological phenomena within scientific spaces (Barad, 2007), and joining with a growing literature that wants to take neuroscience seriously (Wilson, 2004), Tracing Autism shows how the complex work of autism neuroscience picks its way across social deficits, neurobiological substrates, psychological theories, disappointing machines, and loving scientists. Tracing Autism is the story of an intellectual and affective complexity that has come to define autism neuroscience; but it is also the story of the care, seriousness and novelty with which neuroscientists talk about their work.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Des Fitzgerald
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/574

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