Accomplishing ‘the case’ in paediatrics and child health: medicine and morality in inter-professional talk.


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Abstract

This paper presents data from a recently completed ESRC-funded ethnography of social relations and case formulation in an integrated child health service, comprising paediatric in-patient and out-patient, child and adolescent mental health and child development services. Children present to the services with symptoms or troubles for which there are often competing biological, neurological, genetic and/or psychosocial models of causation. As a consequence, clinicians' talk is oriented to deciding between three main potential types of case formulation: medical, psychosocial and not just medical. These three formulations are not static ideal-types. They are highly contestable and require complex practical and rhetorical work, through which facts and evidence are selectively invoked and different parties to the case are granted attributes that construct and reconstruct past events to render ambiguous symptoms or events understandable. In particular, moral judgements and complex characterizations about the child's parents, or significant others, often form an indispensable warrant for these formulations. By analysing professional narratives about cases, this paper develops previous ethnographic work on the classification in medical work of children and adults as good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, culpable or blameless, and renders visible a repertoire of moral formulations about childhood and child care. In particular, judgements about the adequacy of parental love are central to clinical reasoning.

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