UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics Postdoctoral Fellow, Martine Lappé, presents her talk “Postgenomics and the Maternal Body as Environment in Autism Science”. Abstract: Scientists have long been interested
UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics Postdoctoral Fellow, Martine Lappé, presents her talk “Postgenomics and the Maternal Body as Environment in Autism Science”.
Abstract: Scientists have long been interested in identifying risk factors for autism spectrum disorders. In recent years, findings have indicated that a woman’s medication use, toxic exposure, placental health, and immune response during pregnancy may influence her child’s autism risk. These findings have led epidemiologists to focus on pregnancy as a particularly salient window into the causes of autism. This paper considers the emergence of this area of autism science and how the maternal body is figured within it. Drawing on document analysis and interviews with autism scientists, I describe the social, political, and historical conditions that have shaped causal understandings of autism in recent decades. I then describe the emergence and practices of contemporary autism research focused on environmental risk factors. Building on scholarship in medical sociology and science and technology studies, I argue that these areas of autism science are shifting understandings of ‘the environment’ and repositioning when, where, and how we identify and act upon health and illness in the postgenomic era. The paper specifically describes the gendered implications of these sciences and considers their consequences for contemporary conceptualizations of motherhood, risk, and responsibility.
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