, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 103–122 | Cite as

Contesting normal: The DSM-5 and psychiatric subjectivation

  • Paige L. SweetEmail author
  • Claire Laurier Decoteau
Original Article


In this paper, we analyze the debates surrounding the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), psychiatry’s manual of mental disorders. One critical component of the recent DSM-5 debates focuses on how expanding definitions of illness reconfigure the underlying category of ‘normality.’ The literature on biomedicalization and neoliberalism suggests that we have moved past the discrete categories of abnormal/normal into an era in which we all must strive for scales of normality, only achievable via scientific optimization – a shift from normalization to normation. However, the DSM-5 debates suggest that this argument may be too totalizing. Many commentators on the DSM-5 revisions pine for an idealized era when the normal and abnormal were ontologically differentiated in dichotomous terms. We show how this desire to salvage normality from the ambiguity of the norm and the expansion of psychiatry’s domain over human conduct constitutes a critique of the neoliberalization of mental health and the biomedicalization of everyday life, which nonetheless essentializes ‘human nature.’ We excavate these figurations of the normal to highlight the ways in which psychiatry both relies upon and troubles the binary between normal and abnormality, and between optimization and essentialization.


psychiatry knowledge biopolitics normalization diagnosis 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Illinois, ChicagoChicagoUSA

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