, Volume 3, Issue 3, pp 325–341 | Cite as

Fieldwork on Another Planet: Social Science Perspectives on the Autism Spectrum

  • Chloe Silverman
Critical Review


The autism spectrum disorders are a group of neurodevelopmental syndromes of communication, behavior and social cognition. Over the past decade, they have received increasing attention from scholars in the social sciences. This research has been motivated by the prospect of critiquing and improving support services and therapies, by self-advocates who have argued that autism should be tolerated as a form of difference rather than treated as a disorder, and by the interest inherent in syndromes that seem to affect many of the attributes that we use to define personhood. In this commentary, I review social science research on the autism spectrum. I identify some key approaches in the work, including the idea of autism as a culture, transcultural comparisons, studies based on treatment strategies, investigations of subjectivity and interpersonal relations, and research on social movements. In the process, I suggest some further directions for this area of research. I also consider some reasons why the autism spectrum disorders are a particularly interesting site for studies of the ways that biomedical information is used to craft individual and group identities.


Autism Spectrum Disorders Disability Neurodiversity Social Science 



Olga Solomon, Laura Sterponi, Dawn Prince-Hughes, Elizabeth Nickrenz, Melissa Park, Cre Engelke and Dario Mangano, as members of a panel on ‘Autism and Intersubjectivity across Life-Worlds’ at the 2007 American Anthropological Association conference in Washington, DC, gave me the opportunity as their discussant to think through some of the ideas for this review. I'm grateful to all of them for their excellent papers and the productive discussion that followed. Bob Vitalis offered thoughtful comments on multiple drafts, Phoebe Rose pointed out a number of references to work on autism that I had missed, and the members of the Disability Studies Reading Group at Penn State helped me think about issues relating to disability and citizenship in new ways.


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Copyright information

© London School of Economics and Political Science 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chloe Silverman
    • 1
  1. 1.Penn State University, STS Program, 201Old Botany, University ParkUSA

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