Axes de recherche
A History of Autism and Behavioural Therapies as Viewed from Child's Everyday Life Environments, (France, 1960-1990)
Since the 1960s, a large majority of parents and "psy" professionals in France have tended to address the meaning and treatment of autism in psychodynamic terms, centring on the quality of maternal relations, and endorsing the category of "childhood psychosis". From the 1970s onwards, such approaches have drawn a great deal of criticism, especially from parents and psychologists who advocated for behavioural-therapy techniques, and grounded the aetiology of autism in the world of neurobiology. When the latter promoted the therapeutic and educational applications of behavioural therapies, the former firmly condemned its uses in healthcare facilities, as merely being an additional factor increasing the risks of institutional violence and child abuse.
Either presenting genealogies of the diagnostic category of autism or history of therapeutic techniques per se, social science scholarship has revealed how crucial the issue of the interplay between environment and subjectivity is in the history of child development psychology, and of autism as well. It has also underscored France's "psy" professionals' divergence from their anglophone colleagues in defining this developmental disorder. Yet, the historical reasons of these peculiarities remain mostly understudied.
Following the historical research interested in the role of the disciplines of psychology and social sciences in framing the relations between child's subjectivity and its everyday life environments (Thomson, 2013), this research will take as its analytical category the notion of milieu for studying the controversies over behavioural therapies in the realm of autism in France (1960-1990). Drawing on archives of researchers, practitioners, healthcare facilities, and parents' advocacy groups, this dissertation aims at examining the rise and development of these two prevailing and competing understanding of child's subjectivity, pains and care, and at grasping the anthropological, epistemological and institutional stakes underlying these.