Standardising antisocial personality disorder: the social shaping of a psychiatric technology

Sociol Health Illn. 2012 May;34(4):544-59. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2011.01404.x. Epub 2011 Oct 21.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is one of the most influential and controversial terminological standards ever produced. As such, it continues to provide a valuable case study for sociologists of health and illness. In this article I take as my focus one particular DSM category: antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). The analysis charts the shifting understandings of personality disorders associated with antisocial behaviour in the DSM and in US psychiatry more broadly from 1950 to the present day. Memos, letters and minutes produced by the DSM-III committee and held in the American Psychiatric Association (APA) archives ground the discussion. Finally, the article explores more recent constructions of antisocial personality disorder and examines the anticipatory discourse pertaining to the rewriting of this category expected in the forthcoming DSM-5. In presenting an in-depth socio-historical narrative of the development - and potential future - of standards for pathological antisociality, this analysis casts new light on the ASPD construct. In particular, by considering it as a technology, I elaborate how processes of path dependency constrain innovation and how imaginaries of users and publics are implicated in the APA debates constitutive of this.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / pathology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders*
  • Humans
  • Psychiatry / instrumentation
  • Psychiatry / standards*
  • Societies, Medical
  • Sociology, Medical / trends
  • United States