School of Health in Social Science

The problematisation of young people

This project is a critical ethnographic investigation of the emergence of the everyday practice of ADHD.

Rather than being evidence-based, the ‘everyday’ practice of ADHD health care enacted daily by a multitude of professionals can be considered as the result of the interaction of historical, social, political, economic and institutional elements. By drawing on several critical theorists, this project provides an ethnographic investigation of the interaction of these factors, thus foregrounding the elements that made it a possibility for the everyday social practice of ADHD to be in place within an NHS region in Scotland.  The project utilised a critical ethnographic approach to create an ethnographic ‘case study’ that connected everyday social actions relating to mental health and wellbeing to a multitude of influencing social, institutional, political/policy factors that played a role in conditioning the possibility of the everyday practices to be possible.


The project developed a critical analytical approach specific to the investigation. The concepts of ‘problematisation’ and the ‘apparatus’ were combined to capture a two-stage process – the questioning how and why certain ‘things’ become a problem, but also how these ‘things’ are shaped as the objects that they become.  The ‘object of interest’ for this project was young people.  The fieldwork consisted of several periods in health and education services.  Ethnographic tools utilised included observation of clinical appointments, document analysis, interviews and archival research.  The different layers of qualitative material examined in the study – from individual appointment to national policy – allowed for a reconnection of the discursive field in which the current practice of ADHD emerged. 


The project overlaps with an emerging area within global mental health studies.  There have been calls within this theoretical domain for approaches that consider cultural, political, and economic factors and their interaction with local contextual factors.  The approach adopted for this project was an ‘at-home’ ethnography, one that utilised the constructs and theoretical approach emerging within the global health movement, but which were applied to familiar and known problems in order to cast new light on how we understand them.


This project is complete will be published as a book by Emerald Publishing Limited in December 2019.


Charles Marley