Photo of Sarah Bloem

Sarah Bloem

PhD student

I am a philosopher, interested in autism, disability, embodiment, phenomenology, and feminist theory.

Autistic sensory and emotional worlds

In my dissertation, I combine perspectives and methods from philosophy and the qualitative social sciences to study how autistic people make sense of their sensory and emotional worlds and examine how this relates to scientific and cultural discourses about autism.

Research project

In my PhD project on autism and neurodiversity, I combine philosophy with qualitative research methods. As part of this project, I am carrying out diaries and interviews with autistic participants in the Netherlands. These diaries and interviews are broadly focused on 'self and society' (the role of diagnosis/identification, relationships with others, and experience of social norms) and 'the body' (sensory experience and emotion).

I am autistic myself, and use a neurodiversity perspective in my research. Neurodiversity is a social movement and emerging community around the idea that there is not just one single healthy type of mind, neurocognitive functioning, or being-in-the-world. Neurodiversity advocates are typically critical of the idea that autism is a disorder, and instead view autism as a distinct way of thinking and being. I think of neurodiversity as aligned with social and relational models of disability. Through these models, the neurodiversity movement can renew questions into what kind of health care, accommodation and social change would be meaningful for autistic flourishing. The movement also calls for a more thorough and intersectional engagement with autistic lived experience in research about autism.

Philosophical background

Phenomenology is a philosophical tradition and mode of doing philosophy which is particularly suited for the study of lived experience. Critical phenomenology is an emerging field at the intersection of phenomenology, feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, indigenous and decolonial feminism, trans studies, and disability studies. A critical phenomenological lens can for instance be used to examine how embodied differences, such as gender, race, age, sexuality, and disability, situate people differently in the social world. Therefore, critical phenomenological approaches can complement the neurodiversity commitment to autism as an embodied and meaningful being-in-the-world, rather than a deficit in relation to a non-autistic norm.

Drawing on neurodiversity and a critical phenomenological approach, I focus on what has been narratively and theoretically pushed to the margins of autistic lived experience, namely embodiment and affect.

Previously, I took the research master’s in Philosophy at Radboud University (specialisation in Philosophical Anthropology) and the bachelor’s in Philosophy at the University of Groningen (specialisation in Ethics, and Social & Political Philosophy), The Netherlands.

Reach out

If you would like to correspond or have questions about my research project, feel free to reach out to me!