This thesis is an examination of the sociocultural history of ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ in a Global North context. I use Bakhtin’s theories (1919-21; 1922-24/1977-78; 1929a; 1929b; 1935; 1936-38; 1961; 1968; 1970; 1973), specifically of language and subjectivity, to analyse several different but interconnected cultural artefacts that relate to ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ and exemplify its discursive construction at significant points in its history, dealt with chronologically. These sociocultural artefacts are various but include the transcript of a diagnostic interview which resulted in the diagnosis of a young boy with ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’; discussion board posts to an Asperger’s Syndrome community website; the carnivalistic treatment of ‘neurotypicality’ at the parodic website The Institute for the Study of the Neurologically Typical as well as media statements from the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 announcing the removal of Asperger’s Syndrome from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5 (APA, 2013). One advantage of a Bakhtinian framework is that it ties the personal and the sociocultural together, as inextricable and necessarily co-constitutive. In this way, the various cultural artefacts are examined to shed light on ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ at both personal and sociocultural levels, simultaneously. The multiperspectival orientation offered by Bakhtin’s theories is instrumental because I argue in this thesis that it was the struggle for and the effects of various discursively enabled identities - ‘normal’ and ‘not normal’ - that helped shape the unfolding history of ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’.
‘Asperger’s Syndrome’, at least as an official medically sanctioned diagnosis, has had a brief but tumultuous history. It emerged in the early 1980’s in Britain along with other diagnoses on the ‘Autism Spectrum’ (Wing, 1988 ) and was quickly taken-up as a diagnosis of choice, contributing to the reported ‘autism epidemic’ of the late twentieth century. It was also a profitable popular culture commodity and representations of ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ in books and on television have impacted discourses and subjectivities in significant ways as a regulatory ideal (Butler, 1993). Therefore ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ as both a product and an effect of pop culture is also analysed for its role in this sociocultural history. Additionally, the role of what I name distributed diagnosis and the diagnostic chronotope will be analysed for their contribution to this fashionation with and the widespread popularisation of ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’.
For Bakhtin, ‘self’ is a social and relational accomplishment, chronotopically governed and discursively enabled on the borderlands of alterity. In this process of subjectification, self and others are uttered into existence, and ideological becoming is achieved only through the identity resources provided by heteroglossia. Building upon my critical analysis of cyberspace as a carnival venue and my reconceptualization of transgredience as ethical co-agency, distributed at the times and places of intersubjective encounter, I conclude this thesis with an arts piece, a coda, which re-imagines the initial cultural artefact – the diagnostic interview – anew. In this imaginatively re-created time and place, a different chronotope is in play and different subjective possibilities, for self and others, are opened up through an explicit and fantastic discourse of responsible and responsive co-being (Stetsenko, 2007). In this way this thesis will contribute to the continued dialogical unfolding of ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’ and the subjectivities it offers us all in the possible futures that we are laying down now.