Owen Whooley

Associate Professor

Photo: Owen  Whooley

Graduate Director

Regents Lecturer

SSCI 1060

Curriculum vitae


PhD, Sociology, New York University (2010)

Research Interests

Sociology of Health and Medicine, Social Movements, Science and Knowledge

Sociology of Mental Health , Sociology of Ignorance

Research Statement:

My research interests are situated within the field of medical sociology.  Specifically, I study medical professionals, adapting historical and qualitative research methods to explore research questions related to medical knowledge and power. Topics of interest include: the emergence of epistemic cultures and the evolution of medical concepts, the strategies by which actors advocate for knowledge claims; the role of organizations in legitimating certain understandings of health and disease; the local practices by which doctors and patients negotiate meanings; and the way in which social movements and non-traditional “knowers” participate in the production of medical knowledge.



On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing

Owen Whooley

Winner of the 2020 Robert K. Merton Outstanding Book Award from the American Sociology Association, Section on Knowledge, Science and Technology

Honorable Mention, 2020 Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award from the American Sociological Association, Section on Medical Sociology

Psychiatry has always aimed to peer deep into the human mind, daring to cast light on its darkest corners and untangle its thorniest knots, often invoking the latest medical science in doing so. But, as Owen Whooley’s sweeping new book tell us, the history of American psychiatry is really a record of ignorance. On the Heels of Ignorance begins with psychiatry’s formal inception in the 1840s and moves through two centuries of constant struggle simply to define and redefine mental illness, to say nothing of the best way to treat it. Whooley’s book is no antipsychiatric screed, however; instead, he reveals a field that has muddled through periodic reinventions and conflicting agendas of curiosity, compassion, and professional striving. On the Heels of Ignorance draws from intellectual history and the sociology of professions to portray an ongoing human effort to make sense of complex mental phenomena using an imperfect set of tools, with sometimes tragic results.

Available for purchase here.


Knowledge in the Time of Cholera: The Struggle over American Medicine in the Nineteenth Century

Owen Whooley

Winner of the 2015 Robert K. Merton Outstanding Book Award from the American Sociology Association, Section on Knowledge, Science and Technology
Vomiting. Diarrhea. Dehydration. Death. Confusion. In 1832, the arrival of cholera in the United States created widespread panic throughout the country. For the rest of the century, epidemics swept through American cities and towns like wildfire, killing thousands. Physicians of all stripes offered conflicting answers to the cholera puzzle, ineffectively responding with opiates, bleeding, quarantines, and all manner of remedies, before the identity of the dreaded infection was consolidated under the germ theory of disease some sixty years later.
These cholera outbreaks raised fundamental questions about medical knowledge and its legitimacy, giving fuel to alternative medical sects that used the confusion of the epidemic to challenge both medical orthodoxy and the authority of the still-new American Medical Association. In Knowledge in the Time of Cholera, Owen Whooley tells us the story of those dark days, centering his narrative on rivalries between medical and homeopathic practitioners and bringing to life the battle to control public understanding of disease, professional power, and democratic governance in nineteenth-century America.

Available for purchase here.

Recent/Select Publications:

Whooley, Owen and Kristin Barker. forthcoming 2021. “Uncertain and Under Quarantine: Toward                 Sociology of Medical Ignorance,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Fallin, Mallory, Owen Whooley, and Kristin Barker. 2019. “Criminalizing the Brain: Neurocriminology and the Production of Strategic Ignorance,” BioSocieties.

Whooley, Owen. 2016. “Measuring Mental Disorders: The Failed Commensuration Project of DSM-5,” Social Science & Medicine, 166:33-40.

Smith, Tyson and Owen Whooley. 2015. “Dropping the ‘Disorder' in PTSD,” Contexts Magazine, 14(4):38-43.

Whooley, Owen.  2014. “Nosological Reflections:  The Failure of DSM-5, the Emergence of RDoC, and the Decontextualization of Mental Distress,” Society and Mental Health, 4(2):92-110


Sociology of Madness

Sociological Theory

Sociology of Pandemics

Contemporary Sociological Theory (graduate)

Knowledge and Power (graduate)

Sociology of Mental Health (graduate)