‘Filling in the Gaps’: A Micro-Sociological Analysis of Autism

Damian Elgin Maclean Milton


When reviewing research related to autism, it is clear that it is dominated by biological and psychological concerns, with autism being defined as a developmental deviance, dysfunction, and deficit.  Much of this research assumes a functionalist philosophy regarding deviations from statistical norms as pathological and in need of remediation.  This research feeds into a hegemonic view of what constitutes ‘normalcy’, with critical social explanations being lost under the sheer mass of research from this viewpoint.  Despite the ascendency of this functionalist philosophy, there is a growing concern regarding listening to ‘autistic voices’ from a phenomenological perspective (Biklen, 2005) and with regards to the wider social construction of autism (Nadesan, 2005; Timini et al. 2011).  However, the study of autism on a micro-sociological level has been given precious little attention.  This paper utilises the theories of Garfinkel (1967) and Goffman (1955, 1959, 1963, 1974) in particular, in order to question current ways of perceiving autism, highlighting issues concerning social interactions involving autistic people, and the stigma of autism, as well as deconstructing the ‘myth’ of a ‘lack of empathy’ (Baron-Cohen, 2008; 2011).


Normalcy, micro-sociology, stigma, empathy


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