Risky and at-risk subjects: The discursive positioning of the ADHD child in the Italian context

Alessandra Frigerio, Lorenzo Montali, Michelle Fine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common diagnosis given to children. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the diagnosis of ADHD and in methylphenidate use. This research analyses the discursive construction of ADHD in the Italian context, focusing on the positioning of the child. The study addresses the discourses of the key adults who interact with the child, analysing professional, scholarly and parental discourses. Regarding the theoretical and methodological framework, this study integrates a discourse analysis approach with positioning theory. The discourse and psychological framing of 'risk' pervades the structuring of participants' narratives, which position the child as at-risk, and risky, in body and mind. The three groups of participants in this study articulated the notion of risk in different, but overlapping, ways. For mental health professionals, children are likely to develop serious psychiatric conditions; for teachers, children mainly represent a potential threat and danger to other children and the school's social order; for parents, the child is susceptible to becoming an 'out-of-society' individual in the future. The notion of risk operates as a regulatory device, leading from warning (picturing a possible future) to action (preventing this future), and implies the moral obligation to intervene and govern children in the name of risk.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-264
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2013


  • ADHD
  • Discourse approach
  • Italy
  • Medicalisation
  • Positioning theory
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Health(social science)


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