Article ID: CBB001420121

Stabilizing Autism: A Fleckian Account of the Rise of a Neurodevelopmental Spectrum Disorder (2014)


Using the conceptual tools of philosopher of science Ludwik Fleck, I argue that the reframing of autism as a neurodevelopmental spectrum disorder is constrained by two governing `styles of thought' of contemporary psychiatry. The first is the historically conditioned `readiness for directed perception' of, and thinking in terms of, ontologically distinct diseases. The clinical gaze of mental health professionals, the bureaucratic needs of health administration, the clinical and scientific utility of disease categories, and the practices of autism-oriented advocacy groups all imply a bias toward thinking about autism and related disorders as ontologically distinct psychiatric and scientific entities. Second, within the `neuromolecular style of thought', mental disorders are more and more located at the neurobiological levels of the brain. In autism research, one of the biggest challenges is the identification of autism's neurobiological singularity. However, at a moment when biological and categorical approaches toward autism face serious empirical difficulties, a balance is established that holds together these two styles of thought. With a need to account for some of the most persistent uncertainties and conflicts in autism research, namely ubiquitous heterogeneity and a failure to identify disease specific biomarkers, the reframing of autism as a neurodevelopmental spectrum disorder satisfies the scientific, institutional and socio-political needs for stability and homogenization.

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Authors & Contributors
Jacobs, Marilyn S.
Vasilyeva, Nina
Evans, Bonnie
Emde Boas, Walter Van
Gulina, Marina
Antipova, Natalia
History of Psychiatry
History of the Human Sciences
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
American Imago
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Palgrave Macmillan
United States International University
Manchester University Press
Beacon Press
Child development
Mental disorders and diseases
Wada, Juhn A.
Tinbergen, Nikolaas
Kanner, Leo
Park, Clara Claiborne
Fontes, Vítor
Berger, Hans
Time Periods
20th century
21st century
20th century, late
19th century
Great Britain
United States
Paris (France)
Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Md.)

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