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Politicizing the Condition of Diabetes Online: Counter Narratives and the Pursuit of Normalcy
thesisposted on 01.12.2019, 00:00 by Heather Rose Walker
We live in a social environment that understands diabetes as a consequence of gluttony and inactivity – an individual problem rooted in personal knowledge, choice, and will. This broadly accepted narrative effectively acts to depoliticize the condition of diabetes en masse. My dual-study dissertation calls this depoliticization into question by inquiring into the culture of diabetes online communities (DOCs) across three social media platforms, and facilitating a generative appreciative inquiry action workgroup with eight DOC leaders. Using a combination of netnographic methods, I explore how the condition of diabetes is being politicized online. By gazing deeply into narratives, I found that diabetes is politicized largely through the sharing of personal stories online. Online, people are connectively rebranding diabetes as an unrelenting, difficult, though manageable condition. They share vulnerability with humility, working to challenge and ultimately change the minds of those who subscribe to the broadly accepted narrative. Online, people appeal to a diabetes identity that serves as a powerful instrument of social change. To complicate this, however, they concurrently attempt to self-protect by advocating only with kindness and gentility. Throughout this dissertation, I contend with issues of within-group conflict, empowered consciousness, and a connective proclivity toward advocacy strategies that have not been shown to be effective in other historical contexts. I conclude by putting forth a provocative preposition iteratively developed parallel to the action workgroup compelling people with diabetes, researchers, and clinicians to further inquire into alternative, perhaps more direct, modes of politicization in the context of diabetes.