Article: Brains and psyches, Child psychological and psychiatric expertise in a Swedish newspaper by Peter Skagius

Most children and families have not had direct contact with child psychological and psychiatric experts. Instead they encounter developmental theories, etiological explanations and depictions of childhood disorders through indirect channels such as newspapers. Drawing on actor–network theory, this article explores two child psychological and psychiatric modes of ordering children’s mental health discernible in Sweden’s largest morning newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, during the years 1980 to 2008: a psychodynamic mode and a neuro-centered mode. In the article the author shows how these two relatively contemporaneous modes greatly differed in how they enacted children’s mental health. The psychodynamic mode stressed the parents’ role in structuring and affecting the child’s unconscious and saw them as the primary cause of any mental illness. In contrast, the neuro-centered mode highlighted that mental issues were related to the child’s brain and proposed different solutions depending on whether the child’s brain functioned in a ‘normal’ or ‘atypical’ manner. Each mode moreover suggested differing contexts to their discussions, with the psychodynamic mode solely discussing the parental milieu while the neuro-centered mode mainly focused on how society affected children with ‘atypical’ brains. The two modes thus had significantly diverging implications for the reader on how to understand and manage children and their psychological well-being. The paper further argues for the relevance of actor–network theory in historical studies of psychology and psychiatry.

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