The Politics of Depression. A critical analysis of the political-epistemological limits of major depressive disorder

Joe van der Eerden | University of Amsterdam | The Politics of Depression. A critical analysis of the political-epistemological limits of major depressive disorder  | Supervisors: Patricia Pisters, Julian Kiverstein | 2017-2021

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 6.7% of adults in the United States suffered from a major depressive episode in 2014. The goal of this research will be to argue that this prevalence of depression should be understood as a function of the operation of contemporary knowledge about depression, and of the normative forces that underlie, and arise from, this knowledge. This statement will be supported by critical analyses of professional scientific texts relating to depression, as well as the diagnostic tools that are used in psychiatric practice. Although what we know about depression appears to move towards a definitive, objective body of knowledge, its conceptual limits are inscribed in the normative, highly volatile domain of cultural dynamics. This is why the analyses central to this research shall be indebted to theoreticians who acknowledge this feature of knowledge, such as Nikolas Rose, Michel Foucault, and Ian Hacking.

Through these analyses, I shall argue that knowledge about depression is conceptualised, according to the logic of scientific objectivism, as if its object is a natural, apolitical, individualised occurrence. Paradoxically, however, most of the terms and actions that this knowledge discusses are fundamentally historical, and do not have any meaning without a political, normative framework that transcends the individual experience. My aim is to formulate and apply a critical perspective that enables an understanding of this complex epistemological situation, by regarding the existence of depression as a function of the normative principles that govern the production of knowledge about it.