Abstract In psychology and allied disciplines, autism has been erroneously conceived as a disease that precludes meaningful social behavior. Anthropologists are beginning to address this problem by rejecting the narrow confines of what constitutes human social functioning, and by showing the complex ways in which autistic children and adults participate in and contribute to their societies. At the same time, anthropologists have begun to contextualize public debates about autism prevalence and etiology in historical and cultural processes. This commentary identifies two major disjunctions in contemporary public debates about autism: the first between a depersonalized form of knowledge constructed by science and a narcissistic claim for knowledge that privileges anecdotal, personal experience; the second between a “mainstream” discourse on science and a new discourse on science that explains autism in terms of environmental insults. These new environmental perspectives, especially those that concern vaccine damage, can be situated in late modernity. They mediate between a nostalgic memory of ontological certainty, trust, and authenticity and a postmodern world characterized by a loss of faith in scientific institutions. [autism, sociality, vaccines, advocacy]
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