Purpose – To explore the ideological effects and social control potential of diagnostic biopsychiatry and encourage the sociology of diagnosis to retain key insights of early medicalization scholarship.
Methodology – As the sociology of diagnosis emerges from medicalization, it is imperative that the new sub-specialty retains the critical edge of the early scholarship. With this in mind the paper reviews key aspects of the medicalization thesis, emphasizing the links between medical definitions and social control processes (e.g. Conrad, 1992; Conrad & Schneider, 1992; Zola, 1972). Based on this review scholars are urged to be mindful of the “diagnostic imaginary” -- a way of thinking that conceals the presence of the social in diagnoses, and which closes off critical analysis of the existential-connectedness and political nature of diagnoses.
Findings – The paradigm shift from dynamic to diagnostic psychiatry in DSM-III opened the door to a new biomedical model that has enhanced American psychiatry's scientific aura and prestige. With the increased presence and ordinariness of diagnoses in everyday life, an illusory view of diagnoses as scientific entities free of cultural ties has emerged, intensifying the dangers of medical social control.
Social implications – By illustrating that diagnoses are cultural objects imbued with political meaning, the ideological effects and social control potential of diagnostic biopsychiatry may be mitigated.
McGann, P. (2011), "Troubling Diagnoses", McGann, P. and Hutson, D.J. (Ed.) Sociology of Diagnosis (Advances in Medical Sociology, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 331-362. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1057-6290(2011)0000012019
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