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Reading Disorders of Inattention and Hyperactivity: A Normalization Project Open Access


Other title
Foucault, Michel
Discourse analysis
Attention disorders
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Bowden, Gregory J.
Supervisor and department
Barbour, Charles (University of Western Sydney/Adjunct Sociology)
Kaler, Amy (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Markula-Denison, Pirkko (Physical Education and Recreation)
Harwood, Valerie (University of Wollongong, Australia)
Pavlich, George (Assoc. VP Research/Sociology)
Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)
Barbour, Charles (University of Western Sydney/Adjunct Sociology)
Kaler, Amy (Sociology)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common psychiatric diagnoses in children. It and its antecedents have received sociological focus since the 1970s, in studies of how diagnosis and subsequent interventions serve to manage deviant behaviours, as well as accounting for experiences of a diagnosis whose legitimacy has been consistently questioned. Taking methodological cues from Michel Foucault’s exploratory endeavours, this dissertation aims to provide some clarity on sociological conceptions of disorders of inattention and hyperactivity and their relationship to other authoritative claims about such disorders. Sociological explanations of these disorders remain in tension with claims from clinical research about these disorders as objective entities as well as with skeptical claims from popular literature which deny the existence and legitimacy of such disorders. Relying on English-language textual material from the NEOS Library Consortium, focusing on the period 1970 2005, this research examines a deep and broad corpus of statements made about such disorders. By providing a close reading of programmatic texts, and by engaging in critical reflection on their entangled use of descriptive, evaluative, and prescriptive claims, this work obtains some conceptual clarity about descriptions of the mechanisms which pathologize measurable differences among individuals. This work also provides some clarity on what sorts of sociological objects disorders of inattention and hyperactivity might be. Invoking work in the philosophy of health and illness, it concludes that one can grant the existence of disorders of inattention and hyperactivity, but on the grounds that disorder is a social fact and not reducible to physiological explanations. Furthermore, the discursive analysis provided is additional evidence in support of the claim that medicine is an institution of socialization. Treatments for these disorder aim at establishing proper behavior through the individualization of conduct. Alongside any direct manipulation of bodies and minds which occur, interventions for these disorders constitute power relations as Foucault described: the modification of the behavior of others at a distance. The goal of interventions is to modify the behavior of others at the same time as making them responsible for that altered behavior, consequently integrating them into a political economy of rule following.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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