Accepted Paper:

Social media and mental distress: Online practices of digital care  


Ian Tucker (University of East London)
Lewis Goodings

Paper long abstract:

Social media are said to offer seemingly endless ways of connecting with people in a variety of online spaces. The mediated form that such communication takes has re-opened many theoretical debates regarding the status of relationships that are organized and managed online.

In this paper we explore what it means to be a body in the mediated environments of everyday lives of those who visit social media sites that are designed to help people deal with mental distress. Mental health communities are increasingly being shifted online as physical community spaces become fewer due to austerity and funding cuts. The implications of this shift include managing one's 'distressed body' in and through mediated technological spaces. A range of digital initiatives are emerging in mental health care, which in a sense, require people to develop practices of 'digital self care' (e.g. being able to articulate complex experiences of distress on social media sites). One such initiative is the Elefriends website designed and run by the UK mental health charity Mind. We will draw on data taken from a project exploring the way that distress comes to be managed and organised through Elefriends. A non-dualistic approach to understanding 'distressed bodies' online will be drawn from Gilbert Simondon's philosophy of technology and information. The paper will explore how socially mediated bodies are disposed for action in ways that involve negotiating communication through the mediated noise (Serres) of social media, along with having to manage distress through embodied and technological realms, often simultaneously.

Panel E1
Technological innovations in caring communities: New solidarities