The anorexic stereotype : a sociological analysis of the medical construction of anorexia
This thesis analyses clinical knowledge surrounding anorexia. What clinicians say and write about anorexia constitutes a key area of clinical knowledge. This knowledge is complex and has many dimensions. It identifies typical "manifestations" of the illness, such as "fear of fatness". It also identifies the type of woman (e.g. her age or social class) likely to suffer from the disorder. Most importantly, clinical knowledge suggests that anorexia has specific "causes". Anorexia, clinicians inform us, represents a flight from adulthood on the part of girls who are intensely afraid of becoming fat. This thesis analyses this complex psychiatric model, using a number of different methods. The study argues that psychiatry constructs a stereotype of the anorexic. This stereotype is visible in two areas. Firstly an archetype of the sufferer's cognitive symptoms is visible. This suggests that anorexics fear fatness and are afraid to grow up. Secondly a stereotype of the anorexic's demographic profile is apparent. This constitutes the sufferer as young, middle class, educated, and urban. The study examines the accuracy of this stereotype among a sample of 104 anorexics. Using open and closed ended-data, the study suggests that the "anorexic stereotype" may have limited empirical support. In the current study, patients suggested that anorexia was a strategy of control. The concept of control, while validly describing patients' experiences, may partly have been acquired by patients from clinicians. The thesis appraises patients' testimonies to examine the extent to which patients have acquired such "medicalised" language. It also analyses 24 doctor-patient interviews and concludes that doctors may encourage patients to view their disorder in clinical terms. Using feminist theory, and theory from the sociology of chronic illness, the findings of the thesis are analysed from a sociological perspective.