In this week’s issue of The New Yorker historian of science Steven Shapin explores the complicated history of autism in his review of John Donvan and Caren Zucker’s new book In a Different Key: The Story of Autism. As Shapin writes,
The history of how autism was discovered, how the term entered the vocabulary of psychological expertise and also of everyday speech, and how its identity has evolved has been told many times. Chloe Silverman’s 2012 book, “Understanding Autism,” is the most sensitive account by an academic historian, and Steve Silberman’s best-selling work “NeuroTribes” (2015) is a deep history of autism, which ends up as a discussion of how we ought to think about it today. Now comes “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” by John Donvan and Caren Zucker (Crown). The authors are journalists, and, like many writers on the subject, they have a personal interest in autism. Donvan has a severely autistic brother-in-law. Zucker’s son has autism, and so does a grandson of Robert MacNeil, a former anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” for which Zucker produced a series of programs on the condition. Appropriately, a major focus of the book is on autism in the family and the changing historical role of parents of autistic children. “In a Different Key” is a story about autism as it has passed through largely American institutions, shaped not only by psychiatrists and psychologists but by parents, schools, politicians, and lawyers. It shows how, in turn, the condition acquired a powerful capacity both to change those institutions and to challenge our notions of what is pathological and what is normal.
The full review can be read online here.
ABC news correspondent Jon Donvan and producer Caren Zucker culminate their decade plus of reporting on the topic with a cultural history of autism, In a Different Key. Their narrative is populated with the landmark Cases (Donald T) and renowned researchers (Kanner, Asperger), but also those of the condition’s “pre-history,” phrenologists, mentalists, institutional administrators. The authors’ scope spans the shifting landscape of its social politics, theoretical, diagnostic and management controversies, making a grounded case for neurodiversity-oriented reform.
Here are links to the authors’ various pieces on the project from around the net:
The October 2014 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Among the articles included in this issue are ones exploring the relationship between psychology and ethnology, the role of mental tests in Russian child science, and the Psychological Institute of the Republic of South Africa by Wahbie Long (right). Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“On relations between ethnology and psychology in historical context,” by Gustav Jahoda. The abstract reads,
Ever since records began, accounts of other peoples and their institutions and customs have included comments about their mental characteristics. The present article traces this feature from the 18th century to roughly the First World War, with a brief sketch of more recent developments. For most of this period two contrasting positions prevailed: the dominant one attributed human differences to ‘race’, while the other one explained them in terms of psychological, environmental and historical factors. The present account focuses on the latter, among them those who asserted ‘the psychic unity of mankind’. Generally it is shown that from the early period when writings were based almost entirely on secondary sources, to the beginnings of empirical studies, ethnological theories were indissolubly linked to psychological concerns.
“The mental test as a boundary object in early-20th-century Russian child science,” by Andy Byford. The abstract reads, Continue reading New HHS: Psych & Ethnology, Mental Tests in Russia, & More!
The December 2013 issue of History of Psychiatry is now online. Included in this issue are articles that explore the magazines produced in Irish psychiatric hospitals, the nature of DSM classification, and the history of autism. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55): a bicentennial pathographical review,” by Johan Schioldann and Ib Søgaard. The abstract reads,
Researchers in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, medicine and theology have made exhaustive efforts to shed light on the elusive biography/pathography of the great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55). This ‘bicentennial’ article reviews his main pathographical diagnoses of, respectively, possible manic-depressive [bipolar] disease, epilepsy, complex partial seizure disorder, Landry-Guillain-Barré’s acute ascending paralysis, acute intermittent porphyria with possible psychiatric manifestations, and syphilidophobia.
“Through the lens of the hospital magazine: Downshire and Holywell psychiatric hospitals in the 1960s and 1970s,” by Pauline Prior and Gillian McClelland. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue of History of Psychiatry: DSM, Autism, & Hospital Magazines
The July 2013 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Included in this issue are articles on the development of the concept of autism in Britain, an interview with Holberg prize winning philosopher Ian Hacking (right), and Adam Smith’s views on animals, among others. Full title, authors, and abstracts follow below.
“How autism became autism: The radical transformation of a central concept of child development in Britain,” by Bonnie Evans. The abstract reads,
This article argues that the meaning of the word ‘autism’ experienced a radical shift in the early 1960s in Britain which was contemporaneous with a growth in epidemiological and statistical studies in child psychiatry. The first part of the article explores how ‘autism’ was used as a category to describe hallucinations and unconscious fantasy life in infants through the work of significant child psychologists and psychoanalysts such as Jean Piaget, Lauretta Bender, Leo Kanner and Elwyn James Anthony. Theories of autism were then associated both with schizophrenia in adults and with psychoanalytic styles of reasoning. The closure of institutions for ‘mental defectives’ and the growth in speech therapy services in the 1960s and 1970s encouraged new models for understanding autism in infants and children. The second half of the article explores how researchers such as Victor Lotter and Michael Rutter used the category of autism to reconceptualize psychological development in infants and children via epidemiological studies. These historical changes have influenced the form and function of later research into autism and related conditions.
“‘I am a philosopher of the particular case’: An interview with the 2009 Holberg prizewinner Ian Hacking,” by Ole Jacob Madsen, Johannes Servan, and Simen Andersen Øyen. The abstract reads, Continue reading New Issue: History of the Human Sciences