Cambridge Journals Online - CUP Full-Text Page
BioSocieties (2009), 4:425-445 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © London School of Economics and Political Science 2009


The Cerebral Subject and the Challenge of Neurodiversity

Francisco Ortegaa1

a1 Institute for Social Medicine, State University of Rio de Janeiro, Rua São Francisco Xavier 524, Rio de Janeiro CEP 20550-900, Brazil E-mail:
Article author query
ortega f [Google Scholar]


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.

KeywordsAutism; Autistic Cultures; Cerebral Subject; Identity Politics; Neurodiversity

Francisco Ortega is Associate Professor in the Institute for Social Medicine, State University of Rio de Janeiro. His main books include Michel Foucault's reconstruction of friendship (1997, in German), and The uncertain body: Corporeality, medical technologies and contemporary culture (2008, in Portuguese; English version in preparation). His most recent book (co-edited with Fernando Vidal) is Neurocultures: Glimpses into an expanding universe (forthcoming in 2010). With Fernando Vidal, he is at work on a book entitled Being brains.