In the early years of the 21st century, Ian Hacking wrote a series of essays on the theme of autistic subjectivity. These eclectic, occasional essays were, he later told Andrew Lakoff, a final phase of his decades-long “making up people” project. As with other phases of this research, which dated back to the 1980s, and which included works on multiple personality disorder, fugue states, dissociation, sexual orientation, and race, Hacking’s interest in autism aimed at exploring the “ways in which classifications affect people” and how, in turn, “people…affect the ways they are classified” (2007). Hacking has labeled this process the “looping effect of human kinds” an analytic which emphasizes the dynamic, circular social causality that it seeks to name.
In his autism essays, Hacking surveyed a diverse range of texts, from autistic autobiographies, to fictional narratives about autism, like the bestselling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003), to blog and chat room postings, to hyperbolic scientific journalism. Through these essays, Hacking attempted to understand autism not only (or even especially) as a clinical, or diagnostic classification, but in a “deliberately ill-informed way,” to appreciate how such texts are creating a “public understanding of autism” (2009, 1468). For Hacking, autistic autobiographies in particular constitute a new, “multimedia” genre and “are not just stories or histories, describing a given reality. They are creating the language in which to describe the experience of autism, and hence helping to forge the concepts in which to think autism” (2009, 1467).
The autistic memoir presents an exemplary space to observe how autism itself is transforming (subjectively and diagnostically) through the “looping effect” he has adumbrated throughout his oeuvre.
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