April 25, 2019
Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Location: TBD, *reception to follow in Randall Hall 212
Title: The “Western Disease”: Epistemic Contestations over Autism in the Somali Diaspora
Claire Laurier Decoteau received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan (2008). Broadly, her research focuses on the social construction of health and disease, the politics of knowledge production, and peoples’ grounded experiences with healing and health care systems. Decoteau was awarded the 2009 American Sociological Association’s Dissertation Award. Her book, Ancestors and Antiretrovirals: The Biopolitics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2013, University of Chicago Press) argues that it is through HIV/AIDS policy that the South African government has attempted to balance the contradictory demands of postcolonial nation-building – forced to satisfy the requirements of neoliberal global capital and meet the needs of its most impoverished population. Drawing on 30 months of ethnographic, discursive and historical research, the book traces the politics of AIDS in South Africa from 1994 through 2010 analyzing: the political economy of the post-apartheid health system, the shifting symbolic struggles over the signification of HIV/AIDS, and the ways in which communities profoundly affected by the epidemic incorporate culturally hybrid subjectivities, informed by both indigenous and biomedical healing paradigms. This book was awarded three honorable mentions for outstanding book awards from American Sociological Association sections: Medical Sociology; Science, Knowledge and Technology; and the Theory Section.
Decoteau is currently writing her second book, which focuses on the high rates of autism spectrum disorder in Somali diaspora communities in Minneapolis and Toronto. This three-year qualitative project was funded by the National Science Foundation. The book focuses on the epistemic communities Somali refugees have forged to make sense of their children’s vulnerability to autism, which reflect the marginalization and inequality they have faced as new immigrants and visible minorities. It compares Somalis’ explanations to illness narratives of other main constituency groups within the autism world, explores the complicated politics of autism (and vaccine resistance), compares and contrasts service provision and health inequality in Toronto and Minneapolis, and analyzes the shifting dynamics within the field of autism science. This is the first study of autism to explore the racial, class and national implications of autism etiology and politics.
Decoteau has also engaged in projects focusing on: the US federal vaccine court proceedings on autism where the controversial link between childhood vaccinations and autism development was examined; sex work and transactional sex in South Africa, where gift and commodity exchange become symbolic distinctions in an increasingly neoliberal economy; the epistemic debates that were instigated by the release of the DSM-5; and a series of theoretical and methodological pieces on Bourdieusian action theory and critical realism.
As an Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Decoteau teaches undergraduate and graduate sociological theory as well as courses in the sociology of health and medicine.