Sex Roles [sers] PP059-294990 February 14, 2001 17:27 Style ﬁle version Nov. 19th, 1999
Sex Roles, Vol. 43, Nos. 9/10, 2000
Understanding Depression: Feminist Social Constructionist Approaches.
By Janet Stoppard, London, Routledge, 2000, 239 pp.
Within the ﬁeld of psychology, the most widely accepted approaches
to the study of mental illness are those that employ the scientiﬁc method.
These “mainstream” approaches strive to eliminate subjectivity through the
use of standardized instruments that are assumed to adequately measure the
phenomenon in question. In her new book, Janet Stoppard questions the ob-
jectivity of mainstream approaches, arguing from a feminist social construc-
tionist perspective that all knowledge is value-laden and that psychologists,
researchers, and medical professionals who work within these parameters
necessarily impose meaning on the experiences of the “subjects” they study
and treat. Within this epistemological framework, women’s voices fade into
the background; their descriptions and interpretations of their own experi-
ences are virtually ignored. In fact, Stoppard asserts, “feminist analyses of the
knowledge generated by application of the positivist scientiﬁc method have
characterized it as reﬂecting a conception of the world from the standpoint of
male experience, a viewpoint that poorly represents women’s lives” (p. 16).
Stoppard calls for a focus on women’s subjective accounts of their de-
pressive experiences and a contextualization of these accounts within the
broader sociocultural frameworks of women’s lives. In this insightful work,
she suggests that we recognize the limitations of mainstream approaches
as producing only partial accounts that fail to consider women’s voices and
women’s “embodied experiences” as legitimate sources of knowledge. An
additional drawback of positivistic approaches, it is postulated, is that they
localize pathology solely within individual women without considering the
broader sociocultural contexts in which they live. Consequently, the focus of
change becomes the pathology located somewhere within individual women,
rather than the external realities of social structures and traditions that place
upon them an undue burden.
In Part I, Stoppard explores depression as a gendered problem and
examines the basis for the claim that depression is a disorder that dispropor-
tionately afﬂicts women (she notes that the female:male ratio of individuals
2000 Plenum Publishing Corporation