Internet and health discourse: Using corpora to examine personal accounts of eating disorders

Kevin Harvey & Daniel Hunt

University of Nottingham

Over the past two decades the Internet has revolutionised the way in which discourses of health and medicine are produced and consumed. Health-related websites are among some of the most popular on the Web (Eaton, 2002) while 80% of US adult Internet users have searched for health information online (Fox, 2006). A significant element of this 'cybermedicine' movement is the wide range of websites and fora which allow people to seek and provide support for sensitive and stigmatised health problems, including mental health related problems such as eating disorders. This uptake of online resources has occurred alongside an increase in diagnoses of eating disorders themselves: for example, anorexia nervosa is now believed to affect around 1% of women and has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness (Hoek, 2006).

In this paper we draw on corpus linguistic methods to examine discourses around disordered eating in two distinct online venues: a website run by health professionals which provides advice and information for young people; and a patient-led 'pro-recovery' forum for individuals with anorexia. Specifically we identify the salient lexical choices through which online participants express their concerns and, as a corollary, contribute to the verbal construction of eating disorders in each virtual context. In doing so, we illustrate that quantitatively dominant patterns foregrounded by corpus-driven analysis can be shown to play central roles in participants' negotiation of personal and group identities. We suggest that such linguistic analysis can afford insights into the personal experiences of people with eating disorders, and thus demonstrates the utility of a corpus-based approach for illuminating complex mental health concerns.

Week 30 2012/2013

Thursday 27th June 2013

Bowland North Seminar Room 2

Please note the change to the usual venue.