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Innocent Machines: Asperger's Syndrome and the Neurostructural Self

Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences

ISBN: 978-1-84855-880-9, eISBN: 978-1-84855-881-6

Publication date: 17 October 2011


The ways in which the brain, as mapped by bioscience, has become popularly understood as the locus and determinant of the self is a topic of increasing importance within medical sociology. Nikolas Rose has influentially chronicled the emergence of a “neurochemical self,” determined by brain chemistry and thus fluid, malleable, and open to improvement via increasingly fine-tuned psychopharmacology. This chapter argues for the contemporaneous emergence of a neurostructural self, intrinsic to the growing neurodiversity movement. Drawing on trends in contemporary neuroscience and biological psychiatry, this model of “brainhood” conceptualizes the brain-as-self as a material system: governed by physical laws, and thus both morally innocent and robustly predictable. Rather than being infinitely open to intervention and optimization, however, the neurostructural self is imagined as fixed and immutable, resistant to the medical intervention and presumption of infinite flexibility inherent within neurochemical selfhood. This chapter draws on a two-year ethnographic study of autism spectrum disorders in North America, investigating the ways in which circulating discourses about medicine, culture, and identity are shaping the emergence, development and use of autism spectrum diagnoses in contexts of daily practice. In this chapter, I explore why individuals with the autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger's syndrome are particularly effective examplars, consumers, and producers of this neurostructural selfhood.


Fein, E. (2011), "Innocent Machines: Asperger's Syndrome and the Neurostructural Self", Pickersgill, M. and Van Keulen, I. (Ed.) Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 13), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 27-49.



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