Announcement of Ph.D. in Education Dissertation Defense Robin Roscigno: “The history and Development of Applied Behavioral Analysis in the Treatment of Autism: A Critical Perspective”

10:00 am - 12:00 pm

This dissertation provides a historical account of the rise of behaviorism in the United States post World War Two. While many scholars and activists have argued that the field of ABA has inflicted harm upon neurodivergent children, there are very few accounts of how ABA became the preeminent therapy for autism. My dissertation utilizes archival research from the B.F. Skinner Papers at Harvard University and textual analysis of the first thirty years of publications in stand-alone behaviorists journals The Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior (JAEB) and The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA). This dissertation explores the sociopolitical arrangements that facilitated the rise of behaviorism in experimental psychology, education, and social services. I contextualize behaviorism within the project of modernity and demonstrate how behaviorism’s legacy as one of the most dominant schools of psychological thought in the 20th century is due in part to the business acumen of early figures like Skinner. I argue Skinner and the early behaviorists were able to exploit the anxieties of the white middle class regarding otherness, social deviance, disability, and racial integration to elicit the support of universities, government agencies, private equity, and a large swath of the public, and demonstrate how these logics persist in the present.

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