Bonnie Evans, Beyond neurodiversity: The dangers of ‘reducing diversity to brain-based distinctions’ Genetic Literacy Project, March 30, 2022
The concept of ‘neurodiversity’ has gained enormous cultural influence in recent years. Computer scientists and ‘techies’ wear the ‘neurodiverse’ label with pride; businesses are building ‘neurodiverse’ workforces; scriptwriters strive to represent and cast ‘neurodivergent’ people. Those framed as ‘different’ have been given a remarkable new lens through which to reimagine that variance.
Anti-psychiatrists knew that the ‘psy’ sciences served an important role in empowering people, even if they’d been employed poorly in the past. In many ways, the anti-psychiatry movement integrated key psychoanalytic principles by employing historical knowledge to empower and galvanise populations to criticise the practices of psychologists. This was a psychoanalytically and historically informed kind of activism. Instead of discrediting psychological sciences, the philosopher Michel Foucault and others played psychologists at their own game: ‘If you’re going to analyse where my identity “problems” came from,’ they might have said, ‘then I will analyse where your identity, legitimacy and power also came from.’ This was shrewd because it not only unchained the shackles that ‘psy’ professionals had placed on their own individuality: it also revealed how the psychological sciences wielded power through psychological experts, institutions and policies.
What Foucault called ‘historical ontology’ – the study of what makes being or becoming possible – asserted the importance of history, and of collective thought, to understanding contemporary minds. In some ways, this was just a highly refined form of self-reflective psychology. What it showed was that the mind is always a historically situated object, regardless of its ‘neuro’ states. Psydiversity accepts that minds are entangled with the societies around them, and can’t be moored to neuroscientific verities – which are, in any event, a byproduct of the time as well. Psydiversity would move us beyond an unhealthy reliance on the knowledge monopoly of the neurosciences, and address the difficulties of stretching neurodiversity to cover all human differences.