Item Details

Supportive interchanges and face-work as ‘protective talk’ in an online self-harm support forum

Issue: Vol 9 No. 1 (2012)

Journal: Communication & Medicine

Subject Areas: Healthcare Communication Linguistics

DOI: 10.1558/cam.v9i1.71


Within a context of concern about inappropriate advice-giving online, we examined how young people who self-harm behave online, and how professionals might engage with them. We use Discourse Analysis to focus on participant interactions (posts) from a forum’s crisis/support rooms, and highlight the prevalence of disclaimers, hedges, questions and tags in the young people’s online interactions. We use the concept of facework as a framework to help understand interactions in the forum SharpTalk. The findings demonstrate the use of a range of mitigation devices, and suggest that the young people orientate to a ‘protective’ line in their supportive interactions. These findings echo Goffman’s (1967) ‘supportive interchanges’ in that the young people’s online interactions may help to preserve face, in an emotionally complex setting, whose vulnerable members also need ‘protective’ and sensitive support. Taking this ‘line’ may enable members to create a more open and trusting context for support, and to remain in a forum which they find both helpful and challenging. In light of concerns about online support, the findings provide a new perspective on online peer-support for young people who self-harm.

Author: Siobhan Sharkey, Janet Smithson, Elaine Hewis, Ray Jones, Tobit Emmens, Tamsin Ford, Christabel Owens

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