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Cult Med Psychiatry. 2009 Dec;33(4):559-607. doi: 10.1007/s11013-009-9155-1.

"A massive long way": interconnecting histories, a "special child," ADHD, and everyday family life.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, 90095, USA.


Focusing on one family from a study of dual-earner middle-class families carried out in Los Angeles, California, this article draws on interview and video-recorded data of everyday interactions to explore illness and healing as embedded in the microcultural context of the Morris family. For this family, an important aspect of what is at stake for them in their daily lives is best understood by focusing on 9-year-old Mark, who has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In this article, we grapple with the complexity of conveying some sense of how Mark's condition is experienced and relationally enacted in everyday contexts. Through illuminating connections between lives as lived and lives as told, we explore the narrative structuring of healing in relation to Mark's local moral world with the family at its center. We examine how his parents understand the moral consequences of the child's past for his present and future, and work to encourage others to give due weight to his troubled beginnings before this child joined the Morris family. At the same time, we see how the Morris parents act to structure Mark's moral experience and orient to a desired future in which Mark's "success" includes an appreciation of how he is accountable to others for his actions. Through our analyses, we also seek to contribute to discussions on what is at stake in everyday life contexts for children with ADHD and their families, through illuminating aspects of the cultural, moral and relational terrain that U.S. families navigate in contending with a child's diagnosis of ADHD. Further, given that ADHD is often construed as a "disorder of volition," we seek to advance anthropological theorizing about the will in situations where volitional control over behavior is seen to be disordered.

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