Helping the 'problem child' become loveable again? A discourse analysis on childhood ADHD in Switzerland and implications for social work
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2021
Rudin, Pascal Philippe
Diagnoses and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children have seen significant increases in many parts of the world in the past two decades. However, there is a paucity of research on how this concept is increasingly being used around the world, as existing research on ADHD has often focused on the US and the UK contexts. Furthermore, the adoption of a governmentality perspective has largely been under-exploited in discursive research on ADHD, although there are notable exceptions. This thesis explores these gaps by elaborating upon the concept of childhood ADHD in the context of Switzerland. It focuses on the media, the political and the parents’ advocacy discourse planes, paying attention to both the historical emergence and the current presentation of childhood ADHD. This research is guided by an overarching research question as well as three more specific questions. The overarching question is: How has the concept of childhood ADHD been established and maintained in the discourse in Switzerland to date? The more specific research questions are: (i) How are children labelled with ADHD rendered knowable and governable? (ii) How are children labelled with ADHD conceptualised and represented? (iii) How are children labelled with ADHD governed towards specific ends? Data collection included 1139 media articles, with a particular focus on visual data, 214 pages of parliamentary discussions, two federal reports and 82 articles published by a parent advocacy group. In the light of a hermeneutic approach, further data sources, including guidelines, complaints, consultation papers and books, were identified and analysed as part of this research. The data were analysed using Foucauldian discourse analysis, focusing on analytical dimensions informed by the wider governmentality literature, including the visual and spatial aspects of discourses, the rationalities embodied in discourses, the cultivation of subjectivities through discourses, and the technical aspects of discourses. The results illustrate how rather vague research findings regarding ADHD are presented as objective, scientific facts. In this context, the discursively constructed prevalence rate of ADHD is identified as particularly important in transforming political agendas into apparently apolitical ones. The findings further highlight how the image of the ‘ADHD child’ is constructed alongside (visual) representations of deviance, distress and self-governance. The common threads running through these representations are the ideas of the malleability and perfectibility of children, and how these may be employed to foster advanced liberal subjectivities. Moreover, the results illuminate how children are governed through and within social spaces, i.e. the school, the family and leisure, suggesting that these are increasingly being meshed through the use of ‘play’ for both educational and therapeutic purposes. Overall, the findings illustrate how knowledges around ADHD are entangled with power, giving voice to ‘experts’ and parents who are receptive to the medical model, while simultaneously marginalising opposing views. Additionally, findings illustrate that both children and social workers are almost completely absent in the discourse on childhood ADHD in Switzerland. This thesis proposes that the way we construct childhood has real consequences for children. While the move from psychoanalysis to pharmacology has shifted the blame from mothering to the ‘brain’, and re-conceptualised children from being ‘bad’ to being ‘ill’, the findings suggest that suppressive forms of governing their behaviour seem to persist.