Disordered Delinquents: The Medicalization of Anti-social Behavior in the Late Twentieth-Century United States

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Mississippi Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Michael A. Rembis, University at Buffalo (State University of New York)
It is undeniable that the adjudication, incarceration, parole, and probation of “bad” girls and women in the late twentieth century (1970s-Present) continue to rely, at least in part, on increasingly complex medico-scientific discourses of disablement, most of which have their roots in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Yet disability activists and scholars are only beginning to explore the pathologization of social deviance. 

In the midst of a growing interest in the medical, bio-chemical, neurological, and genetic “causes” of social phenomena, as well as a dominant neo-liberal political and economic order that relies upon slashing social services and bolstering problematic and culturally freighted notions of accountability, court and mental health officials and modern psy practitioners and researchers increasingly place the responsibility for girls’ delinquencies--especially when they result in “illigitimate” births--squarely on the bodies, and in the brains, of delinquent girls.

Researchers in a number of fields, as well as judges, prosecutors, politicians and many parents, maintain the assertion that an overwhelmingly high percentage of delinquent girls manifest “signs” of a broad array of mental “disorders;” and many psychologists continue to explore what they call the “IQ-delinquency link.”  Psy researchers and practitioners have also created a number of new disorders with which they label and through which they are able to medicate, incarcerate, and otherwise surveil delinquent girls.

One recent study found that 71.2 percent of delinquent girls met the “diagnostic criteria for a psychiatric disorder.”  A separate study found that 57 percent met the “criteria for at least two disorders.” This alarmingly high percentage of disordered delinquents must be taken up and analyzed by feminist disability studies scholars and disability historians so that they might offer a narrative that reveals the capitalist, patriarchal, ableist assumptions that undergird a medicalized understanding of social deviance.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation