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

Susanna Trnka, Laura McLaughlan


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.


illness narratives; lay percpetions of illness; asthma

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