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27-31 August 2019
Poznań, Poland
Europe/Warsaw timezone
programme last update: 23 August 2019
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Contribution Paper

Poznań, Poland - Morasko Kampus, room: 2.20

Negotiating Autistic Space


  • Dr. Ben BELEK

Primary authors


The concept of autism represents a very broad range of behavioral, cognitive and sensory atypicalities. Attempts to consolidate this unstable category are normally the purview of cognitive neuroscientists, psychologists and geneticists. Yet similar efforts, to invest coherent meaning into this ambiguous label, are also made by autistic people themselves. This paper draws on fieldwork carried out at Autscape, a four-day conference and retreat organized annually in varying locations around England. The purpose of Autscape is to design a space where autistic people could feel comfortable and safe. Its organizers' means of realizing this goal is through heavy regulation of the social and sensorial environment, using colored badges and an elaborate set of rules of conduct. And yet reality, in all its messiness, complicates this ideal. The encounter between very different people who may share a label, but not necessarily much else, results in a constant negotiation between contradictory imaginaries of what an 'autistic space' should be. Autscape is thus more than a setting where autistic people can retire and socialise in preferable conditions. Nor is it merely a material and social design which affords individuals’ enactment of autistic selves. Rather, it is an ongoing project by which participants are impelled to consider their relation to the concept of autism as well as to those who share their label.