Theaters of the Mind: Autism, Disability, and the Performance of Neurological Difference


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Performance Studies


This dissertation considers representations of autism and other forms of neurological disability in American performance from the postwar period through the present. Drawing upon archival sources and close performance analysis, the project proposes that attending to the social and sensory experience of neurological difference can offer new ways of understanding the history of performance (in all of the term’s social and aesthetic valences) in the second half of the twentieth century. Using the methodological resources of performance studies—with its interdisciplinary attention to questions of embodiment, repertoire, movement, and gesture—the dissertation explores how the “performative presence” of autism and adjacent conditions have challenged the aesthetic protocols of performance and other modes of cultural production. The study suggests that emerging discourses of “neurodiversity” and “neurodivergence” offer new ways of approaching some of the longstanding preoccupations of performance studies, disability studies, and cultural theory more broadly.