Virtual recovery: governing mental health and self-improvement online
This dissertation argues that mental health has become an object of governmentality (Foucault), in which current mental health discourses normalize ongoing disorder and promote personal responsibility for attaining an idealized state of wellness. The broadening of mental health disorder categories has generated growing demand for psychotherapy and pharmaceutical products alongside a hegemonization of consumer-oriented mental health discourses. As mental health discourses increasingly target the general population, the project of the self (Giddens) becomes a widespread endeavor in which individuals engage in self-improvement practices that entail anxiety-producing, time-consuming, and exhausting emotional labor in the quest for health and wellness.Internet technology provides a new site for institutional discourses of health and wellness to be (re)produced, taken up, and utilized in the project of the self. This dissertation provides a case study of the mental health community website HealthyPlace to explore how the internet serves as a site of governmentality and the (re)circulation of institutional discourses on wellness and healing. The project uncovers discourses of healing that privilege storytelling norms and particular ways of healing. Critical discourse analysis and social semiotics are employed to demonstrate how discourse technologies act upon site users while narrative analysis shows how individuals respond to such discourses through online storytelling practices.Chapter one provides an overview of the community website and a critical analysis of the discourses normalizing conceptions of (un)wellness and the prescriptions for healing that are (re)produced on HealthyPlace; chapters two and three examine linguistic and visual discourses reproducing ideological notions of mental health disorder and ideals of wellness through website composition and design; chapter four focuses on how individuals negotiate mental health discourses and (re)construct self-identity online through online journaling; and chapter five considers how semiotic resources are part of a branding strategy to sell a promise of wellness that promotes a never-ending cycle of working on self-improvement through therapeutic language practices and reliance on expert knowledge.
- English