Making Up Self Harmers: an investigation of the concept over time and from the perspective of two different self harm groups
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This thesis aims to illustrate the processes involves in ‘making up’ the human kind of self harmers. Psychiatric attempts at defining, explaining, and controlling self harm behaviours are shaped by the people who they diagnose as much as they shape those who they are diagnosing. This relationship goes further, as the labelled respond to their category, the category changes, which alters the way in which they behave, which then again shifts the meaning of the category (Hacking, 2006). Medicine is a force that shapes and structures people’s experiences of themselves, and through power relationships the array of available actions is limited to the individual (Foucault, 1982; Rose, 2007). In this thesis, Hacking, Foucault and Rose’s theories will be illustrated and grounded by an extensive historiography using psychiatric journals, and applied to rich data gathered using internet forums. This thesis comprises both a history of the emergence and development of the concept of self harm, (i.e. the ‘making up’ of the category of self harmers) and an examination of the modern understandings of self harm (Hacking, 2006), using two clinical self harm discussion boards and two emo forums taken from a two week period in June. From this data, four themes were selected (use of medical discourse, identity presentation, integration with medical professionals and concealment) and will be discussed in detail. The ‘looping effect’ is illustrated using clinical self harmers, where their relationship with medical discourses is shown to influence both their understanding of self harm, and medicine’s knowledge of self harm. A second group of emo self harmers will be compared and contrasted to the clinical self harmers, and their relationship to the medical sphere evaluated. These analyses shall demonstrate that the relationship between medicine and emo self harmers is predominantly unidirectional; medicine studies these teenagers closely, yet emo self harmers do not engage with the medical discourses. It will be shown that the two groups see themselves very differently in relation to medicine; clinical self harmers offered themselves to medicalisation readily, but emo self harmers are not medicalised to the same extent.