Agoraphobia, the fear of open spaces, has received minimal attention from sociologists. Yet implicit within psychiatric discussion of this disease is a normative account of society, social order, social ordering, and power relations, making agoraphobia an excellent candidate for sociological interpretation. Narrating Social Order provides the first critical sociological framework for understanding agoraphobia, as well as the issue of psychiatric classification more generally.
Shelley Z. Reuter explores three major themes in her analysis: agoraphobia in the context of gender, race, and class; the shift in recent decades from an emphasis on psychoanalytic explanations for mental diseases to an emphasis on strictly biogenic explanations; and, finally, embodiment as a process that occurs in and through disease categories. Reuter provides a close reading of reports of agoraphobia beginning with the first official cases, along with the DSM and its precursors, illustrating how a “psychiatric narrative” is contained within this clinical discourse. She argues that, while the disease embodies very real physiological and emotional experiences of suffering, implicit in this fluid and shifting discourse are socio-cultural assumptions. These assumptions, and especially the question of what it means, both medically and culturally, to be ‘normal’ and ‘pathological,’ demonstrate the overlap between the psychiatric narrative of agoraphobia and socio-cultural narratives of exclusion. Ultimately, Reuter seeks to confront the gap that exists between sociological and psychiatric conceptions of mental disease and to understand the relationship between biomedical and cultural knowledges.