Brain talk: power and negotiation in children's discourse about self, brain and behaviour

Sociol Health Illn. 2013 Jul;35(6):813-27. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2012.01531.x. Epub 2012 Oct 25.


This article examines children's discourse about self, brain and behaviour, focusing on the dynamics of power, knowledge and responsibility articulated by children. The empirical data discussed in this article are drawn from the study of Voices on Identity, Childhood, Ethics and Stimulants, which included interviews with 151 US and UK children, a subset of whom had a diagnosis of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Despite their contact with psychiatric explanations and psychotropic drugs for their behaviour, children's discursive engagements with the brain show significant evidence of agency and negotiated responsibility. These engagements suggest the limitations of current concepts that describe a collapse of the self into the brain in an age of neurocentrism. Empirical investigation is needed in order to develop agent-centred conceptual and theoretical frameworks that describe and evaluate the harms and benefits of treating children with psychotropic drugs and other brain-based technologies.

Keywords: ADHD; Ritalin; brain; children; self.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / diagnosis
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / therapy
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Child
  • Child Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurosciences
  • Power, Psychological
  • Self Psychology*
  • Social Stigma
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Voice