Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder blame game: A study on the positioning of professionals, teachers and parents

Alessandra Frigerio, Lorenzo Montali, Michelle Fine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is currently the most debated childhood psychiatric diagnosis. Given the circulation of competing perspectives about the 'real' causes of children's behaviour and the 'best' way to treat them, we aim to analyse the interactions of the central social actors' discourses about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder children within the Italian context. Adopting a multi-method approach, we focus on the polyphonic chorus of voices surrounding the child, studying the discourses of mental health professionals, teachers and parents. These actors are representative of three contexts that are deeply engaged with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: medical institutions, schools and families. Our theoretical and methodological approach integrates positioning theory, the Bakhtinian notion of dialogical thinking and discourse analysis to study stakeholders' reflexive and interactive positioning in terms of the attribution of rights, duties, responsibilities and power issues. The results show that mutual blame is a constitutive element of relational dynamics among the key adults surrounding attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder children. We argue that these conflicting relationships are not merely related to the debate regarding the validity of the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnosis. Rather, the mutual blame centres on questions of compliance, recognition of authority and morality. Through the blame game, adults negotiate their own and others' subjectivity in ways that simultaneously (re)produce power relationships and resistance efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)584-604
Number of pages21
JournalHealth (United Kingdom)
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • blame
  • discourse analysis
  • morality
  • positioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)


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