Accepted Paper:

Digital biocommunities: community-building and sharing practices on blogs and forums among people diagnosed with bipolar disorder  

Author:

Claudia Egher

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues that people diagnosed with bipolar disorder form digital biocommunities by combining personal experiences and particular sharing practices with specific engagements with blogs and forums. This shows that the Internet can enhance solidarity and the development of supportive groups.

Paper long abstract:

Over the last decades, dominant discussions in healthcare have focused either on individuals, conceived as independent, responsible agents, or on entire populations, with health framed as a public good. By studying the online exchanges of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, this presentation describes how the Internet can enhance solidarity and the development of supportive communities. It thus contributes to a more recent body of work, which highlights the importance of solidarity and relationships for the ways in which people engage with their health issues. The findings reveal that by providing thick descriptions of their personal experiences and of the practices they engage in as they seek to negotiate the meaning of their condition in their daily lives, by sharing their difficulties, and by expressing their needs, people come together online based on increasingly more specific commonalities of experience. Building upon Rabinow's (1996) notion of biosociality, I develop the concept of digital biocommunities to show that online contributors form new subgroups, based not only upon a common diagnosis and shared values, but also on similar responses to particular forms of treatment, similar life circumstances, and similar engagements with the technology of blogs and forums. Digital biocommunities can be of great importance, by facilitating the circulation of knowledge and the provision of support among subgroups of people diagnosed, including contributors geographically at a distance and those who may find face-to-face interaction too exerting. But there is also a danger that they may contribute to new forms of exclusion and inequality in healthcare.

Panel A01
Biosocial forms of living: imbricating technologies, social and medical knowledge