The creation of premenstrual dysphoric disorder: A feminist analysis of expert discourse and science work

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Julia Loughlin



Subject Categories

Mental Disorders | Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy | Women's Studies


This is a study of knowledge construction by psychiatric experts and how these experts create a female mental illness. The focus for this research is analysis of the psychiatric discourse of Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder (LLPDD).

Late Luteal Phase Dysphoric Disorder, a mental illness version of Premenstrual Syndrome, was proposed for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 1987), the American Psychiatric Association's official manual of mental disorders during the DSM revision process in the mid 1980's. In 1994 the name of this illness was changed to Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.

This research is a case study of the discourse available to the experts associated with creation of this illness. Completion of this case study required four steps: identification of the experts involved with construction of this illness, identification of the body of literature available to these experts, an initial reading using a content analysis of this literature, and a second reading using a discourse analysis. A combination of frames was used for analysis and understanding of discourse including sociology of science, history of science, and feminist work related to construction of sex.

The primary argument that this psychiatric discourse does not provide convincing evidence for existence for LLPDD but does function as a means to constitute sex difference is examined. Psychiatric experts argue for understanding the new illness LLPDD as consistent with the history of a female body which remains the same over time. This assumes a framework which separates the natural and social sciences and also denies an earlier female illness (hysteria) constructed by past psychiatric experts. Analysis of expert construction of this illness and sex difference was grounded in the examination of the context of the psychiatric community, including the biopsych revolution and recent developments in the psychopharmaceutical industry.

Finally, this study argues that construction of this illness and this sexed body, and management of this illness with antidepressant medication, could be viewed as an updated corset; fitting the female body for both cultural needs and psychiatric needs.


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