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Autism as Metaphor: The Affective Regime of Neoliberal Masculinity


This dissertation explores cultural production about autism—from film, television, literature, and video games to United States legal documents—in order to define and analyze assumptions about white masculinity within the ideologies of neoliberal capitalism. In popular culture, characters with autism are generally limited to operating as either apathetic harbingers of dehumanizing presents and futures (as in science fiction with autistic characters) or as dependents who have a difficult time functioning in modern economies and who must ultimately “overcome” through personal initiative. In both models, autism presents problems of productivity, independence, and finances. In these ways, representations of autism are often intimately connected to neoliberal goals and expose how neoliberal subjects are made to perform. These texts present, then, a means of tracing the evolution of how neoliberalism has impacted culture, identity, and disability. Further, such representations of (primarily men) with autism were produced simultaneously to the idea that a “crisis of masculinity” has resulted from modern social and economic policies. Connecting David Savran’s concept of the “white male as victim” under late capitalism and Sally Robinson’s concept of the “marked man” to Stuart Murray’s notion of the “Hollywood logic of autism,” this dissertation argues that cultural definitions of autism have had key roles in furthering the privatized, enraged affects that sustain neoliberalism. Through this methodology, the dissertation seeks to further define the intersections of masculinity and disability as a potentially hegemonic coalition through which notions of self-financialization, rational self-interest, and rugged individualism are supported. By noting the relationship between autism and neoliberal subjectivity, the dissertation disentangles the mythologies through which disabilities and masculinities are made productive for regimes that create immense amounts of social, political, and economic suffering. It also furthers research on how affective and cognitive disabilities (as opposed to physical, the focus of most disability studies) are constructed through cultural discourse and, specifically, expands understandings of autism by putting different media in conversation with each other.

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