Virtually biosocial: IBD patienthood and community in cyberspace

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This thesis describes how patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease create moral order through participation in internet support groups. Drawing on computer-mediated ethnography and discursive analysis of interviews with patients, I argue that the discourse of 'shared experience' unites this diagnostically heterogeneous group into an idealized community. Patients describe their support practices in ways that suggest they are behaving both empirically and ethically. I then discuss how 'awareness,' as an ideal property of patienthood, shapes acceptable ways of being ill. My conclusion articulates the dilemmas faced by IBD patients-whose sense of normalcy is limited by their polluting and unpredictable symptoms-with theorizing on 'biosociality.' I suggest that the moral economy of online interaction, which involves exchanges of 'experience,' 'information,' and 'support,' generates sentiments of similarity and shared interest. This approach differs from much research on patient support groups, which takes patients' shared experiences as apriori rather than discursive constructions.

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Department of Sociology and Anthropology - Simon Fraser University
Thesis type: 
Thesis (M.A.)