Panic Diaries

A Genealogy of Panic Disorder

Panic Diaries

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 14 illus. Published: March 2006

Author: Jackie Orr

Cultural Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Sociology

Part cultural history, part sociological critique, and part literary performance, Panic Diaries explores the technological and social construction of individual and collective panic. Jackie Orr looks at instances of panic and its “cures” in the twentieth-century United States: from the mass hysteria following the 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds to an individual woman swallowing a pill to control the “panic disorder” officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980. Against a backdrop of Cold War anxieties over atomic attack, Orr highlights the entanglements of knowledge and power in efforts to reconceive panic and its prevention as problems in communication and information feedback. Throughout, she reveals the shifting techniques of power and social engineering underlying the ways that scientific and social scientific discourses—including crowd psychology, Cold War cybernetics, and contemporary psychiatry—have rendered panic an object of technoscientific management.

Orr, who has experienced panic attacks herself, kept a diary of her participation as a research subject in clinical trials for the Upjohn Company’s anti-anxiety drug Xanax. This “panic diary” grounds her study and suggests the complexity of her desire to track the diffusion and regulation of panic in U.S. society. Orr’s historical research, theoretical reflections, and biographical narrative combine in this remarkable and compelling genealogy, which documents the manipulation of panic by the media, the social sciences and psychiatry, the U.S. military and government, and transnational drug companies.


Panic Diaries is a wonderful book. . .” — David Healy, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“[A] richly detailed cultural history of the play of ideas, interests, research, technologies and experiments involved in the constitution of panic as an object of scientific, governmental, military, corporate, and individual enquiry and preoccupation.” — Valérie de Courville Nicol, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“[A] treatise that will be of value to scholars interested in the topics of trauma, anxiety, stress, alienation, and other forms of mental disturbance.” — Arthur G. Neal, Journal of American Culture

“Brilliantly inventive. . . . Though [Orr] makes a compelling argument about the manipulation of ‘panic’ by everyone, from transnational drug companies to the entire field of psychiatry, it’s her personal revelations that will cut right through you in this remarkable read.” — Diane Anderson-Minshall, Curve

“[Orr’s] deadly serious comic writing veers between eloquent and arresting, making this a difficult book to recommend to those who are seeking a straightforward history of the anxiolytics and their ilk, but one that is highly recommended for those seeking deeply contextualized and highly situated knowledge, those who admire experiments with form and content, and those who are interested in the cultural salience of panic and its history.” — Nancy D. Campbell, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

“In a renewed climate of panic over terrorism, Orr’s study makes a timely contribution to the social history of mental disorders. It also adds to the growing range of scholarship that is critical of the insidious relationship between psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry.” — Erika Dyck, Social History of Medicine

“Jackie Orr develops an experimental writing praxis that is as creative as it is rigorous in her distinctive Panic Diaries. . . . Jackie Orr’s work on an affective ‘disorder’ . . . has much to contribute to feminist theory and sociological critiques of science, medicine and psychiatry. Her unique contribution also sets the bar high for developing affective modes of expression.” — Melissa Autumn White, TOPIA

“This is an important book about psychiatric research, terror, and the social sciences; and it is a moving piece of experimental scholarship on the history of a feeling state.” — Elizabeth Bromley, Anthropological Quarterly

“Jackie Orr is one of sociology’s most inventive theorists. Here in Panic Diaries she is brilliantly interdisciplinary, joining social theory with rigorous historical research, feminist criticism, and science studies to give us a genealogy of panic from its invention in nineteenth-century social science to its late-twentieth-century medicalization as panic disorder. And more, all of this is cut through with autobiographic experimental writing that makes your heart beat faster—a first-hand experience of panic. A book to read, a book to teach.” — Patricia Ticineto Clough, author of Autoaffection: Unconscious Thought in the Age of Technology

“Packed with original interpretations of historical material, textually innovative, and theoretically brilliant, this book is full of mind-blowing insights for anyone interested in the science and culture of panic.” — Emily Martin, author of The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction


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Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jackie Orr is Associate Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Prologue 1

1. History, Memory, Story: Openings 3

2. The Martian in the Machine: Panic Theory and Theaters of War 33

3. “Keep Calm!” for the Cold War: Diary of a Mental Patient 79

4. Performing Methods: Cybernetics, Psychopharmacology, and Postwar Psychiatry 165

5. Panic Xanax: A Patient Diary 211

Epilogue 275

Notes 281

Bibliography 323

Index 347
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3623-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3610-5
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