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Title: Making sense of self-harm : exploring the cultural meaning and social context of non-suicidal self-injury
Author: Steggals, Peter
Awarding Body: University of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2013
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Non-suicidal self-injury, more popularly referred to as ‘self-harm,’ has become a well established and somewhat haunting presence within late-modern western culture, however in marked contrast to the recent history of its cultural power and social presence, its clinical analysis and scientific exploration have proven confused, fragmented, and faltering. I argue here that these problems arise from a tendency to model self-harm as an individual psychopathological mechanism, an approach which tends to overlook the meanings and contexts which embed and pervade it as a cultural pattern, a social phenomenon, and a personal practice. By contrast I explore self-harm as a late-modern idiom of personal distress and emotional dysphoria, and argue that in order to make sense of it we must try to understand its meaning and not just its mechanism. I pursue this more situated exploration of self-harm through my research question: what are the discursive conditions of possibility which allow ‘self-harm’ to take on the meaning that it has in late-modern culture, and which allow it to exist as a meaningful category of action, and ‘the self-harmer’ to exist as a meaningful category of person. To help in this exploration I identify the key concepts and systems of meaning used to represent and understand self-harm across the multiple social sites in which discourse about it is produced. I do this through a cultural sociological approach especially influenced by Foucault’s archaeological method, and work with a hermeneutic analysis of a range of data, including non-structured interviews, psycho-medical texts which represent expert systems of knowledge governing understandings of self-harm, and popular representations in magazines, newspapers and other media. In this way I address the very conditions upon which self-harm can exist and work as a meaningful idiom in late-modern culture, or in other words: I seek to make self-harm make sense.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: ESRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available