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Disturbing geography: obsessive-compulsive disorder as spatial practice

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Abstract:

This paper explores the spatial practices of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It begins by introducing the key elements of the disorder: obsessions and compulsions. It then concentrates on obsessions and compulsions relating to fears of bodily contamination. Such fears necessitate the formation of psycho-social boundaries in ways that are similar to agoraphobia and other mental-health problems. Avoiding bodily contamination also involves complex spatial orderings to prevent the illicit movement of contaminants. The vital importance, yet fragile nature, of these spatial formations means that negotiating social space and interactions can be immensely fearful, and the OCD sufferer may retreat to the relative safety of home. However, the domestic is a space of ambivalent safety. Everyday objects become saturated with fear, transforming the experience of 'home'. Boundaries and spatial orderings are transgressed in the movement of people and objects. Thus, the OCD sufferer is driven to (re)order space constantly, and in doing so often uses everyday materials in inventive ways. We critique the depiction of OCD as irrational and excessive, and set the creative practices of OCD in relation to the 'slippage' of Michel de Certeau's distinction between spatial strategies of domination and the art of tactical living.

Keywords: consumption; domestic space; mental-health; obsessive-compulsive disorder; spatial practice

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1464936042000317721

Affiliations: Department of Geography Swansea University UK

Publication date: December 1, 2004

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