Neurodiversity: Science, Politics, Culture

Cogut Institute for the Humanities, Brown University
HMAN 1973P Section S01, CRN 25749, Spring 2019
Thursdays 4:00-6:50PM
Classroom: Pembroke Hall 003

Professor Leon J. Hilton
Email: [email protected]
Office Hours: Weds 1:00-3:00 P.M. or by appointment
Office: Lyman Hall 010 & Pembroke Hall 208

Course Description

This interdisciplinary seminar will investigate the emerging concepts of neurodiversity and neurodivergence—terms originally developed by autistic activists and self-advocates seeking to depathologize autism and other forms of neurological, mental, and cognitive difference. Course materials will incorporate perspectives from disability studies, the history of science, cultural studies, and feminist and queer theory. We will consider how neurodivergence enters aesthetic representation by examining cultural texts including novels, memoirs, films, and performance and visual art. We will also ask how social movements such as neurodiversity and mad pride have contested and reformulated dominant representations of mental disability and difference.

A PDF of the full syllabus, including detailed course policies, is available to download here: [Neurodiversity-Syllabus-Spring2019].


Position Paper
Each week, 3 to 4 students will be assigned to write Position Papers responding to the week’s assigned text(s). Your paper should be 4-5pp. (approx. 1500-1800 words) and must be posted to this site before class begins on your assigned week. You will read your position paper out loud during class as part of a panel with the other students assigned to present that day.

Cultural Analysis Paper + Blurb
Due:  Monday April 1 at 5:00 P.M., uploaded to Canvas (LINK)

Final Reflection
Due: Friday May 10 at 5:00 P.M., uploaded to Canvas (LINK)


Books have been placed on order with the Brown Bookstore and are also available for purchase via the online book retailer of your choice. Most of the books have also been placed on reserve via the Brown University Library’s OCRA system [LINK]. Other readings are available in PDF format or URL links in the Course Schedule posted below. Please note that Brown provides some resources for helping to finance costs associated with books and other course-related materials. For further information see [this link].

Course Schedule 

Thursday January 31: What Should We Do With Our Brain?

  • Catherine Malabou, What Should We Do With Our Brain? Translated by Sebastian Rand (Fordham University Press, 2008)
    • Available as an E-Book via the Brown Library system [LINK]
  • Erin Manning, “Me Lo Dijo un Pajarito: Neurodiversity, Black Life, and the University as We Know It.” Social Text 136, Vol. 36, No. 3 (September 2018) [PDF]
  • Amanda [Mel] Baggs, “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours.” Disability Studies Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2010) [LINK]

Supplemental Reading:

  • Articles from “Autism and the Concept of Neurodiversity,” a special issue of Disability Studies Quarterly edited by Emily Thornton Savarese and Ralph James Savarese, Vol. 30, No. 1 (2010) [LINK]
  • Fred Moten, “The Touring Machine (Flesh Thought Inside Out).” In Plastic Materialities: Politics, Legality, and Metamorphosis in the Work of Catherine Malabou, eds. Brenna Bhandar and Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller (Duke University Press, 2015), pp. 265­–286 [PDF]


Thursday February 7: NeuroQueer

  • Melanie Yergeau, Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness (Duke University Press, 2018)
    • Available as a hardcopy at the Brown Bookstore
    • E-book available via the Brown Library [LINK]


 Thursday February 14: Feminist Theory and the Neurodivergent Bodymind

  • Elizabeth A. Wilson, Psychosomatic: Feminism and the Neurological Body (Duke University Press, 2004)
    • Available as a hardcopy at the Brown Bookstore
    • Library Reserve available via OCRA [LINK]
    • See our course Canvas site for alternative formats [[LINK]
  • Lisa Blackman, “Affective Politics, Debility, and Hearing Voices: Towards a Feminist Politics of Ordinary Suffering.” Feminist Review, Vol. 111, Issue 1, November 2015, pp. 25–41 [PDF]

Supplemental Reading:

  • Mel Y. Chen, “Brain Fog: The Race for Cripistemology.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies Volume 8, Issue 2, 2014, pp. 171-184 [PDF]


Thursday February 21: NeuroTribes

  • Steve Silberman, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (Avery Press, 2016)
    • Hardcopy available at the Brown bookstore
    • Physical Library Reserve available via OCRA [LINK]
    • Available as an audiobook [LINK]


Thursday February 28: Alternative Mappings of the Autistic Commons

  • Fernand Deligny, The Arachnean and Other Texts. Translated by Drew Burk and Catherine Porter (Univocal Publishing, 2015)
    • Hardcopy available at the Brown bookstore
    • See Canvas site for alternative formats [LINK]

Supplemental Reading:

  • Leon Hilton, “Mapping the Wander Lines: The Quiet Revelations of Fernand Deligny.” Los Angeles Review of Books, July 2015 [LINK]


Thursday March 7: The Politics of Therapy/Institutions and Alternatives

  • Felix Guattari, selections from The Guattari Reader (London: Blackwell, 1996) [PDF]
  • Abram J. Lewis, “We Are Certain of Our Own Insanity: Antipsychiatry and the Gay Liberation Movement, 1968-1980,” The Journal of the History of Sexuality, 25 no. 1 (January 2016) [PDF]
  • Liat Ben-Moshe, “Why Prisons Are Not ‘The New Asylums.’” Punishment & Society, 2017, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 272–289 [PDF]

 Supplemental Reading:

  • DL Adams and Nirmala Erevelles, “Unexpected Spaces of Confinement: Aversive Technologies, Intellectual Disability, and ‘Bare Life,’” Punishment & Society, 2017, Vol. 19, No. 3 [DL and NE-intellectual disability]
  • Gary Genesko, “Introduction” to The Guattari Reader (London: Blackwell, 1996) [Genesko-Guattari Reader-Introduction]


Thursday March 14: Alternative Mappings of the Autistic Commons II

  • Hamja Ahsan, Shy Radicals: The Anti-Systemic Politics of the Introvert Militant (Book Works, 2017)
    • Hardcopy available at the Brown bookstore
    • See Canvas site for alternative formats [link]
  • Neurodiversity blogs (selections):
    • Autistic Hoya [link]
    • Radical Neurodivergence Speaking [link]

Supplemental Reading:

  • All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, eds. Lydia X. Z. Brown, E. Ashkenazy, Morénike Giwa Onaiwu (DragonBee Press, 2017)


Thursday March 21: Speculative Worlds

  • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (Grand Central Publishing, 2000)
    • Audiobook available [LINK]
    • Alternative formats available on Canvas [link]
    • On Reserve at ROCK Library
  • Sami Schalk, “Whose Reality Is It Anyway? Deconstructing Able-Mindedness” and “The Future of Bodyminds, Bodyminds of the Future” (Recommended) and from Bodyminds Reimagined (Duke University Press, 2018)

Supplemental Reading:

  • Julia Miele Rodas, “Introduction” and “Articulating Autism Poetics,” in Autistic Disturbances: Theorizing Autism Poetics from the DSM to Robinson Crusoe (University of Michigan Press, 2018), pp. 31–76. [PDF]


Thursday March 28: No Class—Spring Break 


Monday, April 1:      Cultural Analysis Paper due to Canvas, 5:00 P.M.


Thursday April 4: Panic

  • Jackie Orr, Panic Diaries: A Genealogy of Panic Disorder (Duke University Press, 2006)
    • available at Brown Bookstore
    • See Canvas site for alternative formats [link]


 Thursday April 11: Ethnographic Approaches

  • Karen Nakamura, A Disability of the Soul: An Ethnography of Schizophrenia and Mental Illness in Contemporary Japan (Cornell University Press, 2013)
    • Available as a hardcopy at the Brown Bookstore
    • E-book available via the Brown Library [LINK]
  • Meryl Alper, “Inclusive Sensory Ethnography: Studying New Media and Neurodiversity in Everyday Life.” New Media & Society Vol. 20, No. 10, 2018: pp. 3560–3579 [PDF]


Thursday April 18: Care Work

  • Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018)
    • Hardcopy available at Brown bookstore
    • See Canvas site for alternative formats [LINK]
  • Park McArthur and Constantina Zavitsanos, “Other Forms of Conviviality.” Women and Performance (October 2013) (link)  


Thursday April 25:

Wrapping up / preparations for symposium


Thursday May 2:               

Neurodiversity & the Practice of Worldmaking Symposium

Thursday May 2 – Friday May 3

Leeds Theatre, Lyman Hall


Friday, May 10:                  Final Reflections due to Canvas 5:00 PM