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Discourses of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Alberta Open Access


Other title
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Diorder
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Shankar, Irene Lata
Supervisor and department
Kaler, Amy (Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Smith, Malinda (Political Science)
Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)
Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
Nelson, Fiona (University of Calgary)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Our understandings of health and illness are shaped by the social and political context in which these understandings emerge (Foucault, 1975). Accordingly, I explore the socio-political context in which Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) emerged in Alberta through investigation of three research questions: 1) how did FASD emerge and become recognized as a public health concern in Alberta? 2) how do those in charge of managing FASD in Alberta understand this disorder? and 3) what are the implications of understanding FASD as it is currently understood? The data for this qualitative study was collected through 23 semi-structured interviews, archival research, and document analysis and was analyzed using discourse analysis. I examined the key individuals responsible for bringing FASD to public attention, the understandings those individuals have of FASD, and the effects of this history on the way that FASD is currently understood. The results demonstrate that discourses of risk, responsibility, gender, and race are invoked in FASD understandings. Public FASD discourse represents the unborn child as being “at risk¨ for FASD and the mother as being “responsible¨ for creating this risk. FASD discourse ignores the structural context (i.e. poverty, racism, marginalization, mental health disorders, and a lack of available addiction treatment programs) in which pregnant women consume alcohol. This focus on the child “at risk” in FASD discourse renders adults with FASD invisible and without adequate services and support. While FASD professionals are aware and critical of the ways in which discourses of risk, responsibility, gender, and race are invoked in FASD understandings, their ability to enact substantial change is limited by structural constraints. This is the first investigation of FASD discourse in Alberta. I trace the FASD discourse and its implications, as well as argue that it is characterized by the hyper-visibility of women deemed to be at risk for giving birth to children with FASD, the invisibility of adults with FASD, and silence on race. I also illustrate how FASD professionals attempt to negotiate these understandings and shape future discourse on FASD. My findings demonstrate the significance of undertaking a historical examination of health disorders, such as FASD.
License granted by Irene Shankar ( on 2011-09-29T14:25:20Z (GMT): 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 the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein 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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