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Defining Social Illness in a Diagnostic World: Trauma and the Cultural Logic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Sociology of Diagnosis

ISBN: 978-0-85724-575-5, eISBN: 978-0-85724-576-2

ISSN: 1057-6290

Publication date: 3 August 2011

Abstract

Purpose – In this chapter, I examine the ways that various trauma carriers, including social movements, self-identified survivors, professional organizations, and advocates make public claims about trauma and the PTSD diagnosis as they work to define moral and political issues.

Methodology/approach – Employing the method of social pattern analysis, I analyze a variety of narrative data pertaining to issues such as child sexual abuse, war, slavery, and genocide.

Findings – Trauma carriers engage in significant social memory work and collective identity work, define social problems, and practice social activism as they address the causes and consequences of psychological suffering. Within the context of modern diagnostic psychiatry, the PTSD diagnosis stands out as a unique narrative of social illness. The PTSD diagnosis is a powerful cultural script that various individuals and interest groups use to interpret mental health symptoms while attributing psychological consequences to social causes as opposed to problems rooted in the individual's psyche (as with psychoanalysis) or neurophysiology (as with modern diagnostic psychiatry). By implication, the social world must be “cured” for the individual to be healthy.

Originality/value of paper – I detail the unique sociocognitive implications of the PTSD diagnosis, highlighting its impact on our collective understanding of particular traumatic experiences and the shared nature of posttraumatic affect. I show the relevance of social memory studies, the more broadly conceived sociology of culture and cognition – especially as it pertains to collective identity and classification norms, the sociology of health-focused social movements, and the analysis of social problems claims-making to an emerging sociology of diagnosis.

Keywords

Citation

DeGloma, T. (2011), "Defining Social Illness in a Diagnostic World: Trauma and the Cultural Logic of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder", McGann, P. and Hutson, D.J. (Ed.) Sociology of Diagnosis (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 59-81. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1057-6290(2011)0000012008

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited