The use of the internet in the lives of women with breast cancer : narrating and storytelling online and offline
This thesis explores the experience of breast cancer patients' online participation in relation to their illness. The research focuses on the work of narrating as the key process in patients' online communication. Empirically, it stems from the noticeable recent proliferation of breast cancer forums, particularly in online spaces. I argue that the production of a story and its telling online enables the patient to cope with a radically new situation in her life. The claim for the significance of breast cancer patients' online communication, particularly narrating, is located within the historical and cultural context of the illness. In examining the process of narrating and storytelling, I draw on sociological and psychoanalytical theories of narrative and storytelling, and sociological debates on issues of health and illness, everyday life and the nature of agency, social exchange, and the tension between the public and the private. The study is based on a phenomenological study that included twenty nine online (e-mail) and twelve face-toface interviews with breast cancer patients, and a textual analysis of related websites. It shows how the work of narrating is facilitated through the online space, highlighting it as a process that has significant consequences for their ability to cope with their illness. The thesis concludes with a self-reflexive account of the employment of narrating as a conceptual, analytical and methodological tool for the study of breast cancer patients' processes of online communication. It argues for the need to acknowledge the constraints that shape the online space, calling into doubt its supposed openness, borderlessness, fluidity and lack of structure. In particular, the discussion highlights the persistence of the cultural dimension of the online communication, questioning the extent to which the nature of online communication is global, as is often argued. The concluding chapter uses the empirical case to engage with the broader concern with the relationship between media, communication and agency. Key words: narrative; narrating; storytelling; Internet; online; offline; breast cancer; agency; interviews.