Discourses of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Alberta

  • Author / Creator
    Shankar, Irene Lata
  • 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.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2011
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Nelson, Fiona (University of Calgary)
    • Smith, Malinda (Political Science)
    • Krahn, Harvey (Sociology)
    • Dorow, Sara (Sociology)