, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp 425–445 | Cite as

The Cerebral Subject and the Challenge of Neurodiversity

  • Francisco Ortega


The neurodiversity movement has so far been dominated by autistic people who believe their condition is not a disease to be treated and, if possible, cured, but rather a human specificity (like sex or race) that must be equally respected. Autistic self-advocates largely oppose groups of parents of autistic children and professionals searching for a cure for autism. This article discusses the positions of the pro-cure and anti-cure groups. It also addresses the emergence of autistic cultures and various issues concerning autistic identities. It shows how identity issues are frequently linked to a ‘neurological self-awareness’ and a rejection of psychological interpretations. It argues that the preference for cerebral explanations cannot be reduced to an aversion to psychoanalysis or psychological culture. Instead, such preference must be understood within the context of the diffusion of neuroscientific claims beyond the laboratory and their penetration in different domains of life in contemporary biomedicalized societies. Within this framework, neuroscientific theories, practices, technologies and therapies are influencing the ways we think about ourselves and relate to others, favoring forms of neurological or cerebral subjectivation. The article shows how neuroscientific claims are taken up in the formation of identities, as well as social and community networks.


Autism Autistic Cultures Cerebral Subject Identity Politics Neurodiversity 



I would like to thank Pietro Barbetta, Suparna Choudhury, Nicolas Langlitz, Enrico Valtellina, Fernando Vidal and Rafaela Zorzanelli. This article was partly researched and written at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, which I thank for its hospitality and support. Project website:


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Copyright information

© London School of Economics and Political Science 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco Ortega
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Social Medicine, State University of Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil

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