The management of identity and accountability in online weight loss discourse

MCSEVENY, Kerry (2009). The management of identity and accountability in online weight loss discourse. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam University.

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Abstract

The aim of this thesis is to explore the management of accountability and identity in an online commercial weight loss group. The commercial weight loss context is socially significant because it is a space which foregrounds women's efforts to control their bodies and behaviour in order to conform to culturally prescribed norms of 'femininity' through continued selfsurveillance and restriction of consumption. The analysis examines 2219 individual posts in 422 message threads over a 24 hour period on a message board on the Weight Watchers website. The site explicitly promotes itself as a space in which members can obtain advice and emotional support from fellow dieters in an encouraging and egalitarian environment, and is therefore intended to be used as an aid to becoming a more successful 'weight watcher' (and consequently a 'better woman'). Using a feminist hybrid discourse analytic method, and drawing on Coffman's notion of 'face', the empirical chapters explore the interactional management of progress reports by group members. The commercial weight loss group provides a space in which the confession of transgression is encouraged, and analysis of the message threads reveals that members of the message board community are accountable to both societal gender norms and to their fellow weight watchers. In these confessional exchanges group members realign themselves with social norms of 'femininity', and renew their commitment to the body modification project. Group members employ face-protective mitigation strategies in their delivery of confessions, and responses to confessional posts orient to group norms of solidarity and support while rehabilitating the transgressing members back into the eating regime. The analysis also explores the use of humour in the construction of the confessional message which, despite its potential to undermine the regime, appears to perform a face-management function, and is used to display 'expertise' about the regime while fostering group solidarity. In message threads where group members report 'inexplicable' failure to lose weight, the group work to maintain commitment to the regime by explaining lack of success in ways which are protective of the reputation of the regime as an effective means of losing weight, thus ensuring continued dedication to the body modification project. The community offers solutions which provide the member with new 'expertise', helping her to become a 'better weight watcher'.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Supervisors: Kathy Doherty and Karen Grainger
Research Institute, Centre or Group: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Depositing User: Jill Hazard
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2018 16:06
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2018 16:44
URI: http://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/18467

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