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Självskada: En etnologisk studie av mening och identitet i berättelser om skärande
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of culture and media studies.
2010 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This doctoral thesis is about people who write about their self-harm on Internet message boards. The aim of the study is to understand how meaning is produced in relation to self-harm, and how this involves particular constructions of self-harmer identity. The empirical material consists of written dialogues from seven Swedish message boards, as well as interviews with their members and a selection of published texts. This body of material is analysed using a poststructuralist discourse theoretical approach.

In order to outline a context for the study, the thesis traces the constitution of self-harm in Swedish public debate since the 1990s. It is suggested that several discourses interact when cutting is represented in media, literature and governmental reports. Most noticeable, a psychiatric discourse, a dystopian discourse of contemporary society, a discourse of alternative youth culture, and a discourse of vulnerable girls are drawn on here.

These discourses are regarded as resources for the production of meaning and the acts of identification in message board discussions and interviews. The analysis of this material is concerned with four empirical themes: the practice of cutting; the importance of talking as cure; distinctions between authentic and inauthentic cutters; and the paradoxical and antagonistic relationship between self-harming patients and psychiatry. Issues of normality/deviance and victimhood/agency are of great importance throughout the thesis, as the informants constantly negotiate these dichotomies.

The thesis demonstrates that cutting is framed on the one hand as a deliberate strategy for managing emotions and demonstrating self-control, and on the other hand as the ultimate sign of helplessness, self-hatred and lack of control. Although the informants have different reasons for cutting, their diverse accounts and approaches are linked together on the message boards through their shared identification with the position of ‘feeling bad’.

The thesis further argues that cutter identity in this empirical material is defined through the construction of different constitutive outsides or ‘enemies’. On the one hand, cutters who ‘feel bad’ are posited against less ‘real’ or authentic ones. On the other hand, cutters are also posited against psychiatry and psychiatric care staff. Psychiatry is constituted in particularly contradictory ways and the informants tend to vacillate between the positions of autonomous, rebellious patient and docile victim of disease. I argue that this can be seen as ways of dealing with certain problematics inherent in the asymmetrical power relationship between patient and psychiatry, at the same time as the construction of psychiatry as an antagonist is also essential for the assertion of solidarity and mutual support on the message boards.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Bokförlaget h:ström - Text & Kultur , 2010. , 308 p.
Etnologiska skrifter, ISSN 1103-6516 ; 51Serie Akademi, ISSN 1653-9575
Keyword [en]
self-harm, self-injury, cutting, Internet, girls, young women, femininity. discourse theory, psychiatry, patienthood, authenticity, identity, mental ill health, gender, body, pain, emotional talk, therapeutic culture, normality, victimhood
National Category
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-33378ISBN: 978-91-7327-129-5OAI: diva2:311796
Public defence
2010-05-28, Humanisthuset, Hörsal F, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 10:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2010-05-07 Created: 2010-04-22 Last updated: 2010-05-07Bibliographically approved

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