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Jenny Bergenmar

It is important to variegate our views of neuropsychiatric conditions and delimitations between normal and abnormal. This is emphasised by the literary scholar Jenny Bergenmar, who carries out research on the depiction of autism in literature and other media.

You are a proponent of a humanistic research perspective on neuropsychiatric conditions?
– Neuropsychiatric disabilities as a diagnosis is a strikingly new one. Even though there have been major research efforts, the humanistic contributions have been but few. The area has to a large extent been dominated by medical science. But the issue of neuropsychiatric disabilities subsumes much more than medicine itself comprises – it revolves around how people are described and understood in a broad societal and cultural sense.
– I myself have studied what is called the representation of neuropsychiatric conditions in literature and other media. Above all, I am interested in autobiographical stories about autism, both in book form and in Internet forums, stories that provide other perspectives than those that otherwise dominate in popular culture or, for that matter, journalism. One finds in them an ambition to move away from the stereotypes about the autistic person as a hyper-talented original à la Rain Man or a psychopath void of empathy known from innumerable crime novels.

Why have you taken an interest in the subject?
– Maybe primarily because the establishment of neuropsychiatric diagnoses has resulted in a shift in the view on normality. One could describe them as a forked blessing for the people concerned. On the one hand, a person's life can depend on a diagnosis and it can constitute recognition. On the other hand, the diagnoses shrink the confines for what is considered normal.
– There is today a neurodiversity movement that instead of describing neuropsychiatric conditions as functionally impairing, instead views them as a normal neurological discrepancy. The concept also invites the focus of directing attention towards the advantages and abilities that neuropsychiatric conditions can constitute. The supposedly objective medical viewpoints on autism have a problematical normative feature, but they also have had a one-sided focus on disabilities and shortcomings instead of strengths and distinctive characteristics.

You have been active in launching Neurodisabilitynetwork?
– Internationally one speaks of "critical disability studies" and there has also emerged interesting research in the field there. Along with Hanna Bertilsdotter-Rosqvist, senior lecturer in social work at Umeå university, I got the idea of starting a research network in order to establish another perspective in the area than the medical one in Sweden. Through contributions from Forte we were able to form the cross-disciplinary Neurodisabilitynetwork that merges humanists and social scientists from higher education institutions all over the country. You can find us on the web site neurodisabilitynetwork.wordpress.com.

Personal facts

Position: senior lecturer in comparative literature.
Age: 42 years old.
Family: common-law spouse, two daughters and a stepson.
Research interests: digital humanities, critical disability studies, literature and reception history.
Driving force: understanding how people use stories and working towards a science that contributes to respect for and recognition of differences, both in contemporary society and in historiography.
Leisure interests: animals and nature, arts and crafts, music and of course literature.

[Interview by Daniel Brodén and published 2015-10-27]

Contact Information

Centre for Culture and Health

Box 200, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

Page Manager: Lovisa Aijmer|Last update: 10/27/2015
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