Lecture Anna Stenning: Narrative agency, autism and recognition in the age of neurodiversity
Narrative agency, autism and recognition in the age of neurodiversity
"My current project is on life writing (including autobiography, memoir and mixed media) by autistic and otherwise neurodivergent narrators. It explores how literary and visual narratives convey lived experiences of autism or communicate how it feels to live as an autistic person. This project was motivated by everyday conversations about my own autism diagnosis where I struggled to find ways to convey experiences that did not accord with neurobiological or cultural master narratives. As the project developed, I learned that many autistic people - particularly those who are multiply marginalised - describe the distress that comes from being recognised in terms of other people's stories about gender, sexuality, race or autism. I have come to see this in terms of narrative agency, where many autistic individuals are deprived of the occasion to be recognised as having a story to tell.
In this talk, I explore these ideas in dialogue with The Secret Life of a Black Aspie, by Anand Prahlad, The Autistic Turn, by Ipek Burçak, The Diary of a Young Naturalist, by Dara McAnulty and Letters to My Weird Sisters, by Joanne Limburg. These narrators help me to explain the social conditions that determine whether we are recognised as a person. They demonstrate how culturally sanctioned ideas of selfhood, subjectivity and personhood - defined in terms of static attributes and personal independence - create a world in which autistic people are unable to appear as complex selves. However, life writing in words and images also shows the contexts in which autistic people can appear as unique selves - specifically those in which autistic personhood is unquestioned. I propose that communities formed around shared interests in neurodiversity and intersectionality recognise that our lives are never 'single issue' stories. Unlike other concepts of agency, narrative agency recognises that we are all, autistic and otherwise, both a relational self and a discrete self, capable of creative action."
This lecture is part of the Leuven Health Humanities Lecture Series and is financially supported by the Humanities and Social Sciences Group at KU Leuven.
How do we work?
The DisABILITY Film Festival wants to challenge the existing image of people with disabilities. Disabled people are not always dependent. Their lives are not all doom and gloom. Starting from this belief, the festival wants to offer a platform to people with disabilities, to work together towards a more nuanced imaging. With the movie screenings, documentaries and workshops we organise, we mean to take a first step in the right direction.