Thesis: Medicalization and mother-blame: A study in the clinical management of deviance in Mexico (2000)


Medicalization is a way of defining devalued personal and social conditions as “illnesses” and then subjecting them to medical labels and treatment. Medicalization has become an important method for managing deviance in the United States (Gabe & Calnan 1989), and one therefore wonders whether it also exerts an influence (or is beginning to) in other places. This dissertation examines the medicalization of children’s emotional and behavioral problems in urban Mexico, contributing to the cross-cultural analysis of the cultural and structural factors in societies that encourage or discourage the medicalization of life’s troubles (Conrad 1992: 288). The analysis is based on field research in the offices of a Mexican pediatrician and child psychiatrist as well as interviews with Mexican mothers about a common childhood problem called inquietud (commonly known as “hyperactivity” in the United States). The material highlights unique characteristics of Mexican biomedicine and many of the important variables that influence clinical constructions of, and responses to, maternal and child deviance. To the extent that the findings are reflective of larger social processes, a principal conclusion is that medicalization, strictly defined, does not operate within the urban Mexican clinic. I argue, based on the settings I examined, that it is primarily through rhetorics of blame, rather than medicalization, that childhood deviance is defined and managed in and beyond the clinic.