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The construction and function of identities in Pro-Anorexia: A discourse analysis

Dimopoulus, Janie (2011) The construction and function of identities in Pro-Anorexia: A discourse analysis. University of Gloucestershire.

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Abstract

This study examines the impact of pro-anorexia websites on the lived experience of site users. Pro-anorexia (also referred to as ‘pro-ana’, see Davies & Lipsey, 2003) is a relatively new and controversial phenomenon which constitutes a community of like minded individuals meeting in cyberspace to exchange hints and tips on weight loss but primarily to provide support for each other (Giles, 2006). It is thought that they offer a means of constructing positive identities for a marginalised and stigmatised group (Rich, 2006). The current study uses data collected over a five-month period from two pro-ana sites consisting of threads from discussion forums, and examines them using a form of discourse analysis as outlined by Potter and Wetherell (1987). Three interpretative repertoires were identified: ‘Anorexia as a lifestyle choice’, ‘Anorexia as a mental disorder’ and ‘Outsiders as a mistrusted out-group’. The analysis examined how site users engaged with these repertoires in order to construct positive identities. In addition, also suggested that while the use of these repertoires enabled site users to reject the dominant medical discourses of anorexia, they may also serve to constrain the individual as they embrace anorexia as a lifestyle choice. This isolating themselves from friends and family and presenting barriers to recovery. Despite this, it is possible that the re-engagement of the site-user with the medical discourse could offer the individual an opportunity to create an identity, which may permit recovery without losing the support of the community.

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