‘Show and tell’: a discursive analysis of women's written accounts of their self-injuring practices

by Morison, T.

Abstract (Summary)
Self-injuring is a practice that involves self-administered damage to one’s body, most commonly cutting of the skin on the forearms. (The practice is distinguished from other intentional and in/direct self-harmful or self-damaging behaviours that cause bodily harm). Dominant psychiatric, psychological or medical approaches construct self-injuring as deviant, socially unacceptable or abnormal behaviour that is indicative of more or less severe psychopathology, and importantly as a stereotypically female practice. This research is conducted within a post-essentialist framework and views self-injuring, and the injured body, as discursively constituted as well as a cultural and political act. It therefore moves away from pathologising discourses in which those who self-injure typically find themselves and their own accounts of their behaviour invalidated and silenced. Instead, the mental health perspective is viewed as one party among many that may contribute to the conceptualisation of ‘self-injuring’ practices as socially meaningful and thus self-injuring is critically interpreted without reliance on a medical model of ‘normalcy’. As part of attempts to challenge medical models and cultural ideals of normalcy, this research presents a critical discursive analysis of a series of narratives provided by 5 female participants in which they record their own experiences, feelings and thoughts related to their practices of selfinjuring. It makes use of critical discourse analytic methodology to identify certain characteristics of these narratives as representations of larger collective meaning systems. It analyses the ways in which self-injuring is constructed in women’s stories of their self-injuring experiences, focusing particularly on the subject positions available in these discourses, as well as their ideological effects. The analysis focuses particularly on constructions of the body and subject positions as they enable or undermines the self-injuring subject’s agency. Finally, it attempts to determine the limitations of certain accounts of self-injuring, pursuing multiple meanings of self-injuring and illuminating new dimensions of talk on self-injuring and novel ways of conceptualising and understanding the practice.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Rhodes University

School Location:South Africa

Source Type:Master's Thesis



Date of Publication:01/01/2007

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