Toxic Shock

9781479877843: Hardback
Release Date: 27th November 2018

9781479815494: Paperback
Release Date: 27th November 2018

9781479870158: PDF
Release Date: 27th November 2018

11 black and white illustrations

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 240

Series Biopolitics

NYU Press

Toxic Shock

A Social History

Hardback / £74.00
Paperback / £20.99
PDF / £25.00

Sharra L. Vostral is Associate Professor of History at Purdue University. She is the author of Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology.

This deft study of technology, disease, and consumer capitalism illuminates the centrality of shame in the history of U.S. women's health and health policy. The story of Toxic Shock Syndrome is as necessary as it is painfula harbinger, Vostral shows, of other medical injuries to come.

Rebecca Herzig,Author of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal

Vostral provides a history of the societal and medical contexts, events, and investigations that eventually revealed tampons and bacteria as co-producers of illness and thus a women’s health problem… Vostral uses the social history of toxic shock syndrome as a cautionary tale about the potential for other illnesses that could emerge from biocatalytic activity, and about the limits of health activism to provoke actions to ensure consumer safety.


Lays bare the devastating consequences of the broad cultural, legal, and corporate misunderstanding of tampons as an inert technology that could not produce a reaction within the body. Vostral explains the pathology of tampon-related toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in accessible language with clarity and authority that has often been unfortunately missing from contemporary discussions of TSS. The publication of this book is timely and welcome, as it provides a rich and scholarly counterpoint to recently reported cases of TSS in mainstream media (e.g., Vonberg & Ritschel, 2018). Vostral’s is a voice of reason in contrast to irresponsible and poorly researched journalistic articles, which have the potential to reignite the confusion and panic experienced by many women and healthcare professionals in the late 1970s and early 1980s when TSS first made the news. This detailed account of the complex co-factors that contributed to—and the failure to adequately solve—the 1980s TSS health crisis brings a much-needed understanding of the disease into the women’s reproductive health research community’s and the public’s consciousness

Women's Reproductive Health

Despite the corporate silence, Vostral has found a wealth of information: from medical reports and research, to legal papers and media coverage. Her assemblage of sources is never forced, but rather presents a Donna Haraway-esque combination of biology, technology, culture and gender... her book should be the standard text on TSS, rather than the corporate one-liner found in consumer goods.

Social History of Medicine

Vostrals excellent and accessible book is the first to address Toxic Shock Syndrome. She helpfully situates it within the history of the womens health movement, which challenged TSS through Our Bodies, Ourselves and other fora. Beautifully written, Toxic Shock melds feminist science and technology studies with careful attention to how 'health' works politically, culturally, and affectively. It is a superb addition to the womens health and biopolitics literature.

Monica J. Casper,Co-editor of Critical Trauma Studies