Aphasia: Some neurological, anthropological and postmodern implications of disturbed speech
Doody, Rachelle Smith
Tyler, Stephen A.
Doctor of Philosophy
This work begins by examining the history of aphasia studies, placing them in the context of historically concurrent theories about speech and language. The historical analysis can be read as a deconstructive incision into contemporary discourses which use information about language to make inferences about brain functioning or thought processes. A deconstructive critique of aphasiology and those sciences upon which it is built, including linguistics and localization theory, suggests that aphasia is constructed artificially so that it cannot be localized or explained by brain mechanisms. Anthropological influences in this work inform the style of analysis as well as the range of inquiry. Situated in postmodern anthropology, the thesis includes an investigation of positioning: positioning of the author within medicine (neurology) and anthropology; and positioning as a phenomenon brought about by certain sets of practices. Among these practices are those related to the scientific method and those related to more interpretive or hermeneutic strategies. Several controversies within anthropology are related to the clash between science and not-science, including feminist and postmodern debates. Practices, which are situation-dependent, are not as conflicted as theories are and provide reasonable ways to separate sense (or meaningfulness) from non-sense (or artifacts) in daily life and work. Related to questions of method and interpretation are questions about "data." What count(s) as data? Should units of significance be predetermined, or discovered in the process of investigation? How do standardized methodologies or interpretive expectations shape the outcome of clinical, scientific, and anthropological studies? A narrative style is employed to discuss these questions by telling particular stories involving research and publication: case reports in neurology; semantics of sentence accent in Alzheimer's disease; and fieldwork in northern Thailand concerning nonliteracy and its effects on cognitive processes among Karen hilltribes. These disciplinary projects are contrasted and data creation discussed. What began as an examination of the history of aphasia studies concludes in discussion of aphasic speech as an example/critique of postmodern and anthropological discourse. Practices that cluster around the study of aphasia, particularly those involving living patients, provide useful critiques to scientific, anthropological and postmodern theorizations.