A Lydia moment: Day and Keys my new qweens

  • Day, Katy, and Tammy Keys. “Starving in Cyberspace: A Discourse Analysis of Pro-Eating-Disorder Websites.” Journal of Gender Studies 17.1: 1-15. Print.

Have had a Lydia Schiavello “wow” moment throughout this article, a fantastic discourse analysis of pro-ana. It speaks my language in terms of content but also in the method of analysis they use, which looks at the discursive work being performed by agents of the pro-ana movement. This idea of subjects of analysis being the ones performing the discursive work, not the researcher is something I should have wrapped my head around ages ago. It is the users I’m studying who are also negotiating through meaning, not just little old me.

So, it’s a

Poststructuralist style of discourse analysis informed by a feminist perspective on the material downloaded from pro-eating-disorder websites. (Day and Keys, 1)

So mine might be a

Digital Anthropological style of discourse analysis informed by Mary Douglas’s notion of Purity and Danger which investigates material contained within the thinspiration, fitspiration and clean eating hashtag feeds. (Clark, …)

I guess that just highlights how obscure my topic is but in Honours level obscurity in focus is manageable.

The article is a beautiful best of of all the people I’ve been reading and it was extremely useful in illustrating how much dissent there is in the field about the way participants in pro-ana are represented in mostly feminist critiques.

Those who self-starve are presented as both ‘victims’ of culturally prescribed roles and expectations and also ‘rebels’ who are fighting and resisting these in an effort to negotiate a satisfactory feminine identity. (Day and Keys, 3)

So on the one hand you have influential writers such as Susie Orbach and Susan Bordo (qweens) who argue eating disorders can be read as body management ideals inscribed in literal form on women’s bodies, social pressures toward obtaining beauty ideals taken to their extreme. And on the other hand you have more recent critiques (Susie and Susan write in a pre-internet era) which see pro-ana as a movement trying to wrest power from dominant representations of eating disorders as pathological, mental illness by reshaping themselves as a group who see “ana” as an empowering “lifestyle choice”. The language of the latter sites and posts is extremely militant, a typical site contains its beliefs in manifesto form and has commandments to live by. There is also a hero worship of the figures of “Ana” and “mia” who seem to be both toxic friends and loving saviours. In short, modern discourse in pro-ana tries to move representations of eating disorders away from beliefs in suffering, disease and victimhood.

It’s not, “a mental illness made me like this” (ala clinical discourse), “society made me like this” (ala Bordo and Orbach) but “I made me like this”.

The writers mention the current trend toward analysing the latter statement through a Foucauldian lens, which I find fantastically interesting but it’s a bit too late in my research life this year to be summoning upon a different theorist to Mary D to explain things.

A bit more on their method:

Following the ethical guidelines produced by the Association of Internet Researchers (AOIR 2002), we decided to use public webpages and chat exchanges in publicly accessible forums only, avoiding ‘lock and key’ sites where greater privacy is assumed. In addition, steps were taken to ensure that nobody would be identifiable from the analysis, such as the removal of all names (even obvious pseudonyms) and any other information that may lead to personal identification. Further, no attempts were made to deceive those visiting the sites by, for example, TK ‘posing’ as a self-starver or someone seeking advice on weight loss. Rather, a method of ‘lurking’ was adopted (reading the messages without taking part). (Day and Keys, 6)

A big YASSSS QWEEN section. I’ll try and mirror their approach to selecting the data ethically. I’ve expunged the desire I have to interact with this community in first semester (see here) and am almost a global expert on the ethical minefield that is engaging with this community through deceptive methods. This passage made me blush guiltily but also rub my paws together gleefully.

Check this INCRED discussion of analysing things discursively instead of the embodied subjective experience of participants.

Unlike some feminist poststructuralist work in this area, we did not make use of psychoanalytic theory, such as the ideas of Lacan (e.g. Malson 1998). Rather, our analysis was largely conducted within a Foucauldian framework, thus concentrating upon the production of knowledge and the constitution of subjectivity without making recourse to unconscious processes. However, nor were we working with the idea that there is nothing beyond the text [an assertion that has been attributed to Derrida (1976)]. For example, although we agree with those such as MacSween (1993) that the body is inscribed with cultural meanings and that any bodily or physical experience is necessarily always mediated by social processes and discourses, we also regard the bodies described in the data gathered (e.g. as being subjected to rigorous and often punitive regimes) as having a physical reality. However, these bodies are ones that are not directly knowable outside of the discursive realm (Malson 1998). (Day and Keys, 6 emphasis mine)

They are careful to acknowledge that while the physical, offline experience of viewing pro-ana certainly exists and is an area of interest, they are not able to make claims about it in their own study.

I almost wrote the same paragraph last week.

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