‘It’s a problem with the brain’: A discursive analysis of parents’ constructions of ADHD

Davies, Alison Jayne (2014). ‘It’s a problem with the brain’: A discursive analysis of parents’ constructions of ADHD. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000a6c9


This thesis takes a discursive approach to the talk of parents of children with an ADHD diagnosis. It uses data from 2 focus groups, 10 individual interviews and 3 mother/father interviews. The thesis adopts a synthetic approach to discourse and draws on the analytic concepts associated with both conversation analysis and with discursive approaches more concerned with the wider social context. The concepts of interpretative repertoires and subject positions are used to argue that prevalent understandings of ADHD place parents of children with ADHD at the centre of a highly moralised debate. Specifically, the prevalent psychosocial repertoire is identified as aligning ADHD with ineffective parenting.

The research explores how parents talk about their experiences of ADHD, and how, through discursive action parents construct their identities in relation to ADHD. It does this, firstly, by identifying and analysing the discursive resources parents deploy in their constructions of ADHD, and their accounts of having a child with ADHD; secondly, by considering the ways in which parents manage their moral positioning in relation to their children’s ADHD diagnosis; thirdly, by identifying the cultural discourses that mothers and fathers use in the formation of their identities as ‘good’ parents.

Analysis suggests that parents attend to issues of responsibility and accountability in their constructions of ADHD. ADHD can be understood as a social category which is fluid, contradictory, and imbued with a moral discourse that is linked to competing subject positions. The thesis demonstrates that parenting identities are not fixed, but are fluid and flexible depending on what is at stake. By using different discursive resources, mothers and fathers construct distinct parenting identities. Significantly, these resources often make relevant gendered subject positions, such as the valorised/blameworthy mother and the disciplining, out-at-work father. However, overall, these distinct parenting identities are formulated to convey the idea of a morally adequate and balanced parenting team.

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