Taxonomic Anxieties: Axis I and Axis II in Prison

Abstract

This essay describes the use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatry in the prison setting. The distinction between the Axis I disorders (major mental illness) and those designated Axis II (character disorders) is explored in terms of the professional division of labor in prison and the problems posed for prison discipline by “behaviorally disturbed” inmates. Conflicts over diagnosis are placed in ethnographic and historical perspective and form the basis for a discussion of the problematic relationship between disciplinary space and issues of subjection and agency.