Diagnostic Cultures: A Cultural Approach to the Pathologization of Modern Life, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Diagnostic Cultures

A Cultural Approach to the Pathologization of Modern Life, 1st Edition

By Svend Brinkmann


154 pages

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pub: 2016-04-06
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Some studies estimate that each year, around a quarter of the population of Western countries will suffer from at least one mental disorder. Should this be interpreted as evidence for the progress of psychiatry, a discipline that is now able to identify and treat mental illnesses that have always existed, or might it be the case that modern life somehow creates new conditions, or social pathologies? This book argues that in fact something more fundamental has been taking place in recent years: the development of diagnostic cultures. Taking account of the phenomenon of patients themselves 'pushing for' pathologization - and acknowledging therefore that this is not simply a case of psychiatry pursuing an agenda of 'medicalisation from above' - this volume examines the emerging trend towards interpreting our sufferings in terms of psychiatric conceptions and diagnostic categories. Drawing on new empirical case studies of psychological diagnoses, including depression and ADHD, and employing both cultural-psychological and sociological analyses, it charts the development of contemporary diagnostic cultures and asks whether, in transforming existential, moral and political concerns into individual psychiatric disorders, we risk losing sight of the larger historical and social forces that affect our lives. A ground-breaking examination of the shift towards the pathologization of suffering and the dangers that this presents to human self-understanding, Diagnostic Cultures will be of interest to scholars of social theory and philosophy, the sociology of culture, psychology and the sociology health and medicine.


"A captivating analysis of the ways that use of medical diagnoses to categorize human behavior has altered our inner experience and our everyday social lives." - Donald R. Marks and Larissa Redziniak in PsycCRITIQUES (2016)

Table of Contents

List of Figures



1. Introducing the Concept of Diagnostic Cultures

2. Psychiatric Diagnoses as Epistemic Objects

3. Languages of Suffering

4. Psychiatric Diagnoses as Semiotic Mediators

5. "Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer": Being a Psychiatric Subject

6. Interpreting the Epidemics

7. Towards a Comprehensive Understanding of Mental Disorder

8. General Conclusions



About the Author

Svend Brinkmann is Professor of Psychology and Qualitative Methods and Co-director of the Center for Qualitative Studies at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is the author of Qualitative Inquiry in Everyday Life: Working with Everyday Life Materials, Qualitative Interviewing and Psychology as a Moral Science: Perspectives on Normativity, and the co-author of InterViews (Third Edition): Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing.

About the Series

Classical and Contemporary Social Theory

Classical and Contemporary Social Theory
Classical and Contemporary Social Theory publishes rigorous scholarly work that re-discovers the relevance of social theory for contemporary times, demonstrating the enduring importance of theory for modern social issues. The series covers social theory in a broad sense, inviting contributions on both 'classical' and modern theory, thus encompassing sociology, without being confined to a single discipline. As such, work from across the social sciences is welcome, provided that volumes address the social context of particular issues, subjects, or figures and offer new understandings of social reality and the contribution of a theorist or school to our understanding of it. The series considers significant new appraisals of established thinkers or schools, comparative works or contributions that discuss a particular social issue or phenomenon in relation to the work of specific theorists or theoretical approaches. Contributions are welcome that assess broad strands of thought within certain schools or across the work of a number of thinkers, but always with an eye toward contributing to contemporary understandings of social issues and contexts.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MEDICAL / Health Policy
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General