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Author ORCID Identifier

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8170-3661

Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

Year Degree Awarded

2020

Month Degree Awarded

February

First Advisor

Donal Carbaugh

Second Advisor

Martin Norden

Third Advisor

Daphne Patai

Subject Categories

Communication | Communication Technology and New Media | Digital Humanities | Health Communication | Interpersonal and Small Group Communication | Medical Humanities | Mental and Social Health | Psychology | Science and Technology Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

Much research has been done on the benefits and harms associated with suicidal individuals' use of digital technologies. However, the meanings discursively created by suicidal persons online, and the unique properties of the internet that shape the co-creation of these meanings, have scarcely been studied. This dissertation enlists the ethnography of communication enterprise - specifically, Hymes's (1972) descriptive theory and Carbaugh's (2007) cultural discourse analysis - to understand the communicative possibilities within the digital terrain of SuicideForum.com (SF), the communication scene in question. The analysis uncovers that the discourse, to its users, is both problematic and emancipatory in the ways it creates identity, relations, actions, emotions, and dwelling.

Results also reveal that the website's discursive architecture - its rules, structural layout and design, instruments, and technical affordances - objectify key values and beliefs held by its sponsors, creators, and members. These include openness about one's stigmatized thoughts and feelings, a supportive orientation toward users in crisis, and protection of feelings of all involved, including offending parties. As a discursive community, SF members discursively construct suicidality in terms of a bifurcated self, relational rupture, and sense of placelessness or entrapment. Within SF's communicative space, members jointly imagine possibilities for emancipation from suicidality, including cathartic ventilation of negative feelings, cultivation of sustaining ties to empathetic others, and reciprocity through "listening" and being "heard," which can be done proximally or virtually.

The dissertation concludes with contributions to the discipline of Communication and to other related fields, including Psychology. These include intra- and inter disciplinary linkages between the areas of social interaction and culture and computer mediated communication; between platform studies and the ethnography of communication enterprise; and between suicidology and the cultural construction of meaning. The dissertation also offers modest suggestions as to how suicidal users' terms and meanings can augment or remediate existing treatment. Lastly, avenues for future study that situate the cybersuicide phenomenon within the wider discursive field are also addressed.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.7275/n6gx-mj31

Available for download on Monday, February 01, 2021

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