School of Health in Social Science

The emergence of the everyday social practice of ADHD

A Foucauldian-inspired ethnographic investigation.

The investigation utilised an ethnographic approach, and the scholarship of Michel Foucault and João Biehl, to reconnect the wider social, political and institutional factors that were influential in the formation of a particular form of ADHD related health care.  By utilising various strands of theoretical and empirical material from both authors, the study aimed to reconnect the nexus of elements that conditioned the possibility for the everyday social practice of ADHD to be in place within an NHS region in Scotland in the present moment. 

An overarching aim was to consider ADHD from outside its dominant biomedical explanation by examining the wider context and processes that conditioned the possibility for the emergence of a local approach to ADHD diagnosis and treatment.  The investigation made use of the ethnographic approach of Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment as a methodological guide.  Vita reconnects the ‘nexus of elements’ – the ‘invisible machinery’ – that allowed for individuals to be represented as mentally defective. 

The analytic approach for the investigation made use of the concept of ‘problematisation’, which captures a two-stage process – the questioning of 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 investigation was ‘young people’ and how they were problematised and shaped as the target of certain knowledges.  It was through this process – the how of their construction as a problem – that the investigation made the connections that provided the authority for particular problem explanations to be installed as ‘real’ over other possibilities.

The study constructs a genealogical account of the emergence of the local social practice of ADHD, one that maps and makes visible the multiplicity of events implicated in the construction of young people as particular types of problems and which conditioned the possibility for the social practice of ADHD to become the current means by which young people become known as problems.  The genealogy is considered a theoretical redescription of the rise of ADHD diagnosis and treatment locally, one that troubles accepted explanations by revealing the wider complex network from which the social practice emerged.