Swenson to Present Research in Lithuania

Should your kids always be well behaved and engaged in productive activities, even during school vacations? If they’re not, does that mean there’s a “problem” with them — and with you, the parent?

Butler Assistant Professor of Communication Kristin Swenson believes American consumers are hearing these messages in ads for medications prescribed for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“These ads are selling us the idea that we should always be working, regardless if one is a school-aged child, or a mother who has multiple demands on her time and energy,” Swenson said. “There is never any down time for children in these ads. One ad advertises that ADHD does not take the summer off and neither should your child take time off of his medication.”

In March, Swenson will present her analyses of such ads in a public lecture, “Pharmaceutically Induced ‘Abilities-Machines’: Foucault and the Rhetoric of Pharmaceutical Advertising ” for the Department of Social and Political Theory, and the School of Political Science and Diplomacy at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania.

Swenson’s research on the issue connects with her teaching in the College of Communication’s course “Technologies of the Body and Rhetorical Criticism.”

Swenson emphasized that she is only analyzing the advertisements and not making any claims regarding ADHD as a diagnosis or as a disorder, or regarding the effectiveness of any medications.

Medication, she said, is promoted as the way to manage the conflicting demands of busy lives, regardless of external situations. The commercial pitches indicate that “in a time in which the economy is on a downward spiral and life and work feel precarious, ADHD medication offers a solution,” Swenson said.

Ads often show a mother with the “problem child,” usually portrayed by a boy. The ads argue that “moms are part of the problem,” and that if a child has ADHD, the mom may have it too and may need medication as well, she said. “This effectively brings parents into a diagnosis of ADHD through the child’s diagnosis.”

In her lecture Swenson will argue that parents desire to provide the best for their children and want to invest in what the philosopher Michel Foucault has referred to as “abilities machines” (the children’s ability to succeed and earn money in future endeavors).

“If ADHD diagnosis and its attendant medication help a child succeed, then to be a ‘good parent’ is to medicate your child, according to these ads,” Swenson said. “Moreover, to be a ‘good mom’ is to medicate yourself.”

Vytautas Magnus University recently accepted Swenson’s article “Affective Labor and Governmental Policy: George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health” for upcoming publication in its. Baltic Journal of Law and Politics.

Media contact: Mary Ellen Stephenson
(317) 940-6944

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