White Rose University Consortium logo
University of Leeds logo University of Sheffield logo York University logo

Reconstructing the Dominant Discourse of an Empathy Deficit in Autism: Adopting a Foucauldian Perspective towards ‘Insider’ Accounts

Begon, Rob G. (2016) Reconstructing the Dominant Discourse of an Empathy Deficit in Autism: Adopting a Foucauldian Perspective towards ‘Insider’ Accounts. DEdCPsy thesis, University of Sheffield.

[img] Text
Thesis FINAL.docx
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales.

Download (496Kb)


Despite a heterogeneous quantitative research base, individuals on the autistic spectrum are often constructed as being socially debilitated: unable to perceive the minds of others and almost entirely devoid of the emotional expression necessary to sustain what we might consider ‘normal’ human interaction. In other words, they have an empathy deficit. This is an understanding based on the diagnostic and medical model discourses that have traditionally dominated the field of autism and is necessarily based on an etic (‘outsider’) perspective. I argue that this kind of understanding not only serves as an injustice to autistic individuals and the emotional insights of which they are capable, but moreover engenders wholly negative and pessimistic terms in which to speak of them. In recent years, however, there has been considerable agentic resistance from within the autistic community and an ever-growing body of literature attempting to understand autism from an emic (‘insider’) perspective. This may be described as the “emergent counter-narrative” of autism (Broderick and Ne’eman, 2008). Using focus groups with young people (aged 12-17) diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and analysing this data using a critical Foucauldian-inflected discourse analysis, I seek to build upon this. I do not attempt to refute or replace medical models of autism, but rather suggest that our understanding of autism may benefit from the counter-cultural critique offered by insider accounts and, further, that this can make available new ways of talking of, and ultimately thinking about, those diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. I argue that, through their active participation in the focus groups, and the subsequent opportunity to critique my analysis, participants are offered a level of empowerment and emancipation, and are able to demonstrate a wide range of emotional insights. While there is evidence of participants drawing upon traditional discourses of deficit and ‘lack’ (and adopting the according subject positions that have been forged for them), there is also evidence of participants beginning to defy the restrictions enforced by these discursive locations, and drawing upon more alternative and subversive discourses. In so doing, I argue, the participants build upon a wider narrative that helps us to deconstruct (and reconstruct) the notion of an empathy deficit, and the wider discourses in which this concept is bound. Questions are raised around the concept of ‘normal’, and there is a strong emphasis on the idea of a difference rather than a deficit in empathy. Moreover, I argue, there is a need for us (as professionals and ‘neurotypicals’ generally) to accept this difference, and reflect upon our own empathy deficit and the ways in which we can adjust our own communication to meet the social reality of autistic individuals. Latterly, the emphasis of my writing shifts towards the wider implications for professional practice and the implications this may have for autistic role identity and subjective experience.

Item Type: Thesis (DEdCPsy)
Keywords: Autism, Empathy Deficit, Foucault, Discourse Analysis, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > School of Education (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.690155
Depositing User: Mr Rob Guy Begon
Date Deposited: 28 Jul 2016 11:32
Last Modified: 03 Oct 2016 13:15
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/13615

You do not need to contact us to get a copy of this thesis. Please use the 'Download' link(s) above to get a copy.
You can contact us about this thesis. If you need to make a general enquiry, please see the Contact us page.

Actions (repository staff only: login required)