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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Framing the ADHD child : history, discourse and everyday experience Rafalovich, Adam


Through employing a two-faceted approach to the sociological study of Attention Deficit- Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), this thesis seeks to further the study of this mental illness and also to elucidate new methodological directions for the sociology of similar phenomena. Past approaches in the sociology of mental disorder have considerable merit, but may also be limited in the type of analyses they offer. One particular limitation concerns sociological accounts of mental illness that portray the meaning of such illnesses as unified and that this unification results from the collusion of special interests. Sociologists who address mental illnesses as social problems, for example, appear wont to portray such illnesses as social constructions which arise from specific agents of labeling. With regard to ADHD, previous sociological accounts often make a case for the rhetorical and political power of government agencies, medical practitioners, and pharmaceutical companies. Though such agents are certainly influential in shaping public conceptions of ADHD, this thesis demonstrates that ADHD is interpreted in various ways. These assertions are supported through the analysis of two different data sources: 1) textual data; and 2) interview data. The textual data for the first part of the thesis comprises the subject matter for a genealogy of ADHD. Through examining past and contemporary texts that frame this disorder, including medical journal articles, medical manuals, popular writings, and parental guidebooks, the author argues that the historical and current discussions of ADHD are replete with differing interpretations of the causes and treatments for ADHD. These ADHD discourses, as they are seen through written accounts, offer a variety of perspectives towards the disorder, drawing from many opposing schools of thought. Most notable in this regard are psychodynamic and neurological approaches to ADHD. I argue that even though the neurological perspective towards ADHD appears to be the most dominant in diagnosing and treating the disorder, it is far from monolithic. ' The second part of the thesis draws upon interview data from sixty-two respondents associated with cases of ADHD: twenty clinicians, twenty parents, and twenty-two teachers. Each of these groups of respondents were asked questions designed to solicit their subjective experiences with the disorder, including how they perceived ADHD children and their sources of ADHD knowledge. The analysis of such data is placed against the backdrop of the genealogical part of the thesis. Responses from participants are examined as reflecting ADHD discourses. Some respondents, for example, demonstrate a commitment to neurological perspectives towards ADHD, while others gravitate towards psychodynamic or combined understandings of the disorder. Through combining these two data sources, this thesis analyzes ADHD discourses that give rise to conceptions of the disorder and shows how these discourses influence attitudes and actions towards ADHD. By giving less salience to the collusive relationships between government agencies, medical practitioners, and pharmaceutical companies, and by putting more focus on the relationship between the three major groupings directly involved in the ADHD experience—clinicians, teachers, and parents—this thesis furthers the sociological study of ADHD.

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