Becoming 'Half a Doctor': Parent-Experts and the Normalisation of Childhood Asthma in Aotearoa/New Zealand


  • Susanna Trnka Auckland University
  • Laura McLaughlan



illness narratives, lay percpetions of illness, asthma


In New Zealand, familial responses to childhood asthma largely pivot around the role of the parent-expert who takes primary responsibility for both the management and normalisation of their child’s condition. Based on a preliminary analysis of cultural texts and interviews with parents, healthcare professionals, representatives of asthma societies and environmental activists, this paper argues that childhood asthma is largely accepted as being a ‘normal’ part of life to the extent that parents and health professionals alike note that the dangerousness of this condition is frequently under-recognized. Strategies for both managing and normalising asthma are heavily reliant upon pharmaceutical therapies, though some attention is also paid to mitigating environmental triggers. Central to these endeavours is the role of the primary caregiver(s) who, with input from GPs, frequently adopts the position of the parent-expert in managing the idiosyncrasies of their child’s condition. Little emphasis is placed on collective therapeutics or social action, as the primary focus is on individually-tailored familial-based management of children’s symptoms.

Author Biographies

Susanna Trnka, Auckland University

Susanna Trnka is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Auckland. Her publications include State of Suffering: Political Violence and Community Survival in Fiji (2008, Cornell University Press), Young Women of Prague (1997, Macmillan Press, co-author Alena Heitlinger) and the edited volume, Bodies of Bread and Butter: Reconfiguring Women’s Lives in the Post-Communist Czech Republic (1993, Prague Gender Studies Centre). Currently she is working on an edited volume on the politics of the senses, Senses and Citizenships: Embodying Political Life (co-edited with Christine Dureau and Julie Park) to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Laura McLaughlan

Laura McLaughlan completed her BA honours degree in social anthropology at the University of Auckland in 2009 and is currently undertaking a DipGrad at the University of Otago in religious studies. She has a strong interest in the impact of inequality on health and is presently writing for an online women's health magazine.




How to Cite

Trnka, S., & McLaughlan, L. (2012). Becoming ’Half a Doctor’: Parent-Experts and the Normalisation of Childhood Asthma in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Sites: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, 9(2), 3–22.