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Vying for credibility in the US Congress

Legitimating symbols in the debate over immunization and autism

Maya Ponte

Throughout the debate in the United States Congress over whether vaccines cause autism, legitimizing symbols that index cultural values have played a prominent role in the establishment of credibility. While both sides sanctify the role of science in producing credibility, they draw on different images of what science is and where its legitimacy stems from. Those who favor the vaccine hypothesis frame science as a populist endeavor, the results of which are open to critique by all. Those against the vaccine hypothesis frame science as an elitist endeavor, the results of which may only be critiqued by fellow scientists. While both of these images derive their significance from the cultural history of the United States, they have a markedly different impact on the interpretation of evidence. From within the populist frame, personal experience and direct observation are highly valued. From within the elitist frame, epidemiological evidence trumps personal experience. Due to the incorporation of dueling images of science, the US debate over autism may be viewed as a debate between rival cultural values.

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The ABCs of Autism

Aspects of Maternal Pedagogy in Australia

Rozanna Lilley

The field of autism interventions, as well as advice given to parents on educating children with autism spectrum disorders, is characterized by competing claims and controversy. This article compares two events targeted at parents, both of which were staged on the same weekend in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. One centered on applied behavioral analysis, holding out the promise of potential normalization for children with autism and their families. The other, mobilizing civil rights rhetoric, pushed for the full educational inclusion of all children with disabilities. This article investigates the assumptions underlying these varied positions and assesses some of the ways in which parents, especially mothers, make sense of and situationally negotiate these often emotionally charged claims and counter-claims.

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Doing, Being and Becoming

The Sociality of Children with Autism in Activities with Therapy Dogs and Other People

Olga Solomon

This article examines theories of sociality against ethnographically informed understandings of the sociality of children affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) interacting with therapy dogs and other people. I explore from an occupational science and occupational therapy perspective how theories of human sociality inform our understanding of the ways in which a child's social engagement is supported during child-dog interactions; and how analysis of the data might problematize some theoretical assumptions about sociality, specifically, the primacy of language and theory of mind, and the 'humans only' position.

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Ben Belek

Autism spectrum conditions represent a broad category of behavioural, cognitive and neurological atypicalities. The difficulties experienced by people on the autism spectrum with regards to their emotional awareness, regulation, expression and interpretation are often mentioned in literature – and regarded by autistic people themselves – as salient features of the condition. The primary aim of my research is to help deepen our understanding of these difficulties, in order to gain a subtler appreciation of what 'being autistic' actually means. An ethnographic focus on emotional experiences in autism promises to introduce a new, unique pathway toward a clearer understanding of a condition too often thought to be unintelligible. In this article, I argue that insofar as autistic people may experience difficulties in discerning, managing or communicating their emotions, these difficulties mainly stand to reflect and allude to their unique positions within a complex network of connections: social, cultural and neurological.

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Steven Eastwood

The National Autistic Society defines autism as affecting “how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and how they make sense of the world around them.” People with autism oft en seek regulation of experience in order to manage the difficulty in inferring and understanding the provisional knowledge and subjectivities of others. Much like the neurotypical “other people” described by those with autism, the on-screen assemblage of normative cinema appears to know what to reveal, what to conceal, where and how to be. However, such a cinema is also required to be regulated, so as to be socialized to the reception and response of “others” (the audience) through normative techniques. But when and how might the much-debated screen-mind relationship produce a frustration of otherness or tamper with an audience’s ability to ascribe provisional knowledge to others? And what can the cinema learn from the autistic experience? This article proposes a form of cinema—cinemautism—to challenge a neurotypical cinematic form.

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Introduction

For an Anthropology of Cognitive Disability

Patrick McKearney and Tyler Zoanni

How can we study significant cognitive differences within social groups anthropologically? Attempting to do so challenges some of the discipline’s most cherished methodological, analytical and ethical commitments, raising questions about how we understand difference, both between and within societies. Such challenges both explain the neglect of the topic up until now and suggest its scholarly potential. In this article, we move to lay the groundwork for an anthropology that takes seriously cognitive differences (such as autism, dementia and intellectual disability), as well as their potentially disabling consequences. We ask: what kind of cross-cultural reality does cognitive variation have, and how problematic are such differences for those who live with them? We spell out at greater length some of the difficulties involved in developing this conversation, attempt to address these issues, and delineate some of the important benefits that follow from doing so.

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Agatha Mohring

María y yo by Miguel and María Gallardo, Arrugas by Paco Roca and Una posibilidad entre mil by Cristina Durán and Miguel Ángel Giner Bou are contemporary Spanish graphic novels that can be considered pathographies. This article shows how they use the metaphor of the journey to deconstruct social representations and challenge preconceived ideas about autism, Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral palsy. By making readers travel to the unknown territory of differences and diseases, these works help them to discover and understand alterity. I also study how the authors use techniques specific to travel guides to explain these disorders, and interrogate the extent to which creating and reading those pathographies can have a curative dimension. This will lead to questioning the concept of the therapeutic journey.

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Social Circus and Applied Anthropology

A Synthesis Waiting to Happen

Nick McCaffery

This article explores the potential for developing anthropological investigation in the field of social circus – in particular with those projects that work with individuals living with disabilities. The author uses examples of research in Belfast to argue that the applied nature of anthropology is the ideal mechanism for analysing and comparing the emerging field of social circus projects around the world. In this case, anthropological tools were utilised that had a direct effect, not only on understanding the phenomenon of social circus projects but also on raising the levels of quality, leading to a direct improvement on services provided.