Owen Whooley

Associate Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy, University of New Mexico
Chapter Member: New Mexico SSN
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About Owen

Whooley’s research focuses on medical professionals, specifically the history of professionalization in the United States, the nature of professional politics, and the influence of medical professions on policy outcomes. His forthcoming book, Knowledge in the Time of Cholera, explores how the modern American medical profession emerged out of an intellectual crisis produced by recurrent cholera epidemics in the 19th century and the struggles over medical knowledge between medical sects that followed in their wake. Whooley offers a fresh understanding of the origins of the exceptional – and politically powerful – U.S. medical profession, one that underscores the ways in which the tension between professional authority and democratic cultural values shaped the profession. His current research focuses on the professional politics involved in the definition of mental disorders, with an emphasis on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). All of Whooley’s research is animated by an overarching interest in the role of experts and professions in democratic decision-making.


Knowledge in the Time of Cholera: The Struggle over American Medicine in the Nineteenth Century (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).
Reveals how basic debates between competing medical sects over medical knowledge of cholera within government institutions shaped professionalization of U.S. medicine.
"The Paradox of Professional Success: Grand Ambition, Furious Resistance, and the Derailment of the DSM-5 Revision Process" (with Allan Horwitz), in Philosophical and Pragmatic Problems in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, edited by Joel Paris and James Phillips (Springer Press, forthcoming).
Shows how professional politics within American psychiatry derailed the ambitions of the DSM-5 Task Force to radically alter psychiatric nosology through the introduction of dimensional measures.
"Useful for Whom? Clinicians, Researchers, and DSM’s Many-Sided Nature" Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 7 (2012): 15-17.
Reveals a basic, untenable tension at the heart of the DSM by outlining the different orientations toward psychiatric knowledge between psychiatric researchers and clinicians.
"Organization Formation as Epistemic Practice: The Early Epistemological Function of the American Medical Association" Qualitative Sociology 33, no. 4 (2010): 491-511.
Demonstrates the epistemic importance of the early AMA in performing the professional task of delineating the boundary between quackery and legitimate medical knowledge.
"Diagnostic Ambivalence: Psychiatric Workarounds and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" Sociology of Health & Illness 32, no. 3 (2010): 452-469.
Reveals the ways in which psychiatrists negotiate the DSM in practice by developing various “workarounds” so as to ensure the autonomy of the clinical interaction.