Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Committee Chair

Liv Stone


In the 1990s the psy-disciplines found themselves embroiled in one of the most acrimonious conflicts these fields have ever experienced. Often called the “Memory Wars”, this conflict emerged from the growing number of people, overwhelmingly women, alleging that a parent, overwhelmingly fathers, had sexually abused them in childhood based on previously inaccessible memories. The conflict was roughly split between clinicians who saw such delayed recall as relatively common among trauma survivors and a group of experimental psychologists who were skeptical of the veracity of such memories. The latter group would eventually ally themselves to an advocacy organization, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF), founded by and for parents accused of sexual abuse. The FMSF argued that these allegations were the result of clinicians “implanting” purportedly “false memories” in their clients, leading to an iatrogenic disorder they named False Memory Syndrome. This thesis explores the construction of this proposed diagnosis. It suggests that psychiatric diagnoses do not simplistically index “real” diseases but rather do things in the world, including the shaping and reshaping of discourses and individual subjectivities. Drawing on the concept of “epistemic injustice” it argues that False Memory Syndrome can be understood as a tool through which certain epistemic hierarchies, which had increasingly come under attack by feminists since the 1970s, were defended and re-entrenched.


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