In the Journals

Olga Solomon on Anthropology and the Study of Autism

More of the articles in the 2010 issue of the Annual Review of Anthropology are now available online (unfortunately only to those with subscriptions or institutional access).  One of the most interesting reviews is an article by Olga Solomon called “Sense and the Senses: Anthropology and the Study of Autism.”  Solomon is a linguist in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Southern California, who has written extensively on autism, language and sociality.  She was a co-editor of a recent special issue of Ethos on autism, which I wrote about here several months ago.

As Solomon writes, this review “considers the production of knowledge about autism as a clinically relevant category at the intersection of sense as culturally organized competence in meaning making and the senses as a culturally normative and institutionally ratified sensory and perceptual endowment,” (2010: 243).  This focus on the production of knowledge is particularly important given the broad significance that autism has taken on in the sciences of the mind and brain over recent years.  Solomon explains: “As currently defined in psychiatry and cognitive psychology… autism reaches in contradictory and unexpected ways to the very core of what it means to be human: Autism is used as a counterexample to empathy and intersubjectivity but also as evidence of the limitless potential and neurodiversity of the human mind,” (Solomon 2010: 242).

The abstract:

“As a clinical category and a sociocultural phenomenon, autism occupies a prominent albeit ambiguous place in ongoing social science and humanities debates about empathy, intersubjectivity, intentionality, epistemological certainty, and moral agency. Autism is used as a counterexample to feeling empathy and understanding other people’s feelings, beliefs, and intentions. Alternatively, it is given as evidence of the limitless potential and neurodiversity of the human mind. This review offers an examination of the field of autism research relevant to anthropology of the senses. It considers the production of knowledge about autism as a clinically relevant category at the intersection of sense as culturally organized competence in meaning making and the senses as a culturally normative and institutionally ratified sensory and perceptual endowment. In such a distinction, both sense and the senses are paths toward and an object of the empirical understanding of autism,” (Solomon 2010).

Direct link to: Olga Solomon, 2010. “Sense and the Senses: Anthropology and the Study of Autism.” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol 39.


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