Date of Award

Spring 2012

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Michele Dillon


This dissertation is a study of medical diagnosis, specifically anxiety disorder diagnosis, from the perspective and through the narratives of people who have been diagnosed. In this study, I address two core research questions. First, how does social materiality (e.g., bodies and objects) contribute to, shape, and lend empirical understanding to the experience of an anxiety disorder and the experience of illness in general? Second, how does medical diagnosis translate from the medical institution into the lives of people who have been diagnosed, and how do those diagnoses transform in and through the social lives of people? To address these questions, I conducted in-depth interviews with forty people who had been diagnosed with three specific forms of an anxiety disorder: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and panic disorder without agoraphobia. I also conducted eight months of participant observation at anxiety disorder support groups. Through these illness narratives, I traced the co-construction of illness experience and medical diagnosis from the perspectives of people who have been diagnosed. These narratives were loosely divided into three parts: before, during, and after diagnosis, which mirror the structure of the dissertation. Accordingly, I first describe how people came to decide to seek medical care and diagnosis. Then, I turn to how gendered bodies and the gendering of anxiety/ fear in general and the gendering of the diagnosis of anxiety disorders in particular complicated the diagnostic process itself. And, finally, I explore how the medical diagnoses evolved in and through everyday social interactions and experiences, often well beyond the purview of medical institutions. These narratives suggest that physical bodies, everyday objects, and medical diagnoses figure prominently in the life course of an anxiety disorder.