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Identity commitments in personal stories of mental illness on the internet

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The Internet augments the informational flows that organize biographies in late modernity. Sufferers of bipolar disorder (manic depression) may turn to the Internet for accessible information, to learn about others' experiences and impart their own knowledge. Personal accounts posted in the public domain become themselves part of those informational flows, and thus acquire a dual life at a boundary between private and public domains. This poses certain challenges for the investigation of computer-mediated autobiographical telling, which are identified in this paper and negotiated in an analysis of downloaded personal accounts of bipolar disorder. Two of the stories are selected for a close look. Story 1 tells about achieving long-term remission through personal resolve and psychological alternatives to medication. Story 2 tells about becoming able to talk about the illness through the achievement of a social identity as “manic depressive”. The stories' similarities, differences, and comparability with the other texts are discussed with a view to theorizing how such texts position their implied author in the illness experience. Building upon Bakhtin's idea of a text's plan and its realization, a concept of “identity commitments” as textual properties is proposed. (Narrative identity, Computer-mediated communication, Bipolar disorder, Bakhtin)

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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