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  • Lighthouse Lecture: Professor Roy Richard Grinker

How did autism shift from being a rare disorder to being an "epidemic"?

Roy Richard Grinker is a Professor of Anthropology, Human Sciences and International Affairs at the George Washington University. In 2005, he received a grant from the National Alliance for Autism Research/Autism Speaks to conduct the first ever prevalence study of autism in Korea. Grinker has published books and articles on topics such as the ethnic conflict in central Africa, the intellectual history of African Studies and north-south Korean relations. He has conducted research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Korea, Swaziland, South Africa, India and the U.S.

This lecture departs from the themes of his most recent book UNSTRANGE MINDS: Remapping the World of AUTISM (2007). Unstrange Minds shows how the shift in our view on autism forms part of a broader set of shifts in societies throughout the world. The increased focus on child psychiatry, the decline of psychoanalysis, the internet, the rise of international advocacy organizations, greater public sensitivity to children's educational problems and changes in public policies have together changed the way autism is diagnosed and defined. As a result of these processes – Grinker argues – autism has changed from being a rare disorder, occurring in 3 in 10,000 people, to being perceived as an "epidemic", occurring in 1 in 166 people.

The talk is the 2nd LIGHTHOUSE LECTURE organized by Centre for Cultural Epidemics (EPICENTER) and the 4th lecture in a series of lectures on critically engaged medical anthropology, currently organized by the Department of Culture and Society (CONTEMPORARY ETHNOGRAPHY) and the Research Unit for General Practice in Aarhus.