What is psychiatry? Co-producing complexity in mental health

Soc Theory Health. 2012 Nov;10(4):328-347. doi: 10.1057/sth.2012.9. Epub 2012 Jul 25.


What is psychiatry? Such a question is increasingly important to engage with in light of the development of new diagnostic frameworks that have wide-ranging and international clinical and societal implications. I suggest in this reflective essay that 'psychiatry' is not a singular entity that enjoins consistent forms of critique along familiar axes; rather, it is a heterogeneous assemblage of interacting material and symbolic elements (some of which endure, and some of which are subject to innovation). In underscoring the diversity of psychiatry, I seek to move towards further sociological purchase on what remains a contested and influential set of discourses and practices. This approach foregrounds the relationships between scientific knowledge, biomedical institutions, social action and subjective experience; these articulations co-produce both psychiatry and each other. One corollary of this emphasis on multiplicity and incoherence within psychiatric theory, research and practice, is that critiques which elide this complexity are rendered problematic. Engagements with psychiatry are, I argue, best furthered by recognising its multifaceted nature.