Hi everyone! My name is Sarah Kinniburgh and I am a rising senior studying the medical humanities. This summer, I will be conducting research for my interdisciplinary Honors thesis, The Medicalization of Juvenile Delinquency, 1940s-1990s, with the support of the Charles Center.

In the United States in these decades, how did the standardization of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment medicalize adolescent delinquency, particularly in male youth of color? More broadly, how did and how does psychiatric diagnoses target deviant youth behavior? Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), courtroom evidence, and community responses, I suggest that diagnosis: 1) transformed delinquency into a public health concern and 2) legitimized the juvenile justice system. In this analysis, I will determine if diagnosing delinquency was a political abuse of psychiatry, a term that deserves attention from scholars of American medicine. Fundamentally, my thesis aims to evaluate how medicalization has affected adolescents and, in the process, to reveal an unexplored narrative about how diagnosis forms and functions.

I am really excited to research these social dimensions of diagnosis and power, so stay tuned!


  1. Do you think that your research will tend to draw you more toward the diagnostic process and how it may or may not have been flawed, leading to more youth of color to be diagnosed as having a psychiatric disorder, or do you intend on looking at instances where the diagnoses was legitimate, but it was used to unfairly target individuals who were not part of the majority social class? This sounds like an interesting research topic that will get at the heart of the problems with a part of our current justice system, and where those problems may have come from.