‘To the horror of experts’: reading beneath scholarship on pro-ana online communities

Kate Holland, Andrew Dickson, Anna Dickson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)
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    Pro-ana online communities in which people share their experiences of eating disorders have attracted concern among scholars and health practitioners because of fears about their potential to encourage disordered eating. This article draws upon concepts from feminist psychoanalysis to ‘read beneath’ a selection of scholarly work on pro-ana communities and consider the implications of this reading for theory and practice in public health. In particular, we draw upon Julia Kristeva’s work to ‘uncover’ how sections of the academy have attempted to manage the horror inherent in the abject in relation to pro-ana. To support our reading we also draw upon critical feminist and sociocultural research on pro-ana, critical public health scholarship and the Foucauldian notion of ‘care of the self’. In accordance with our intent to overcome dichotomous thinking we locate our approach in the context of cultural studies of psychiatry, which is concerned less with clarity and non-contradiction than it is with the social, cultural and political relations of psychiatric knowledge production. This orientation is suited to capturing pro-ana’s complex relationship with medical/psychiatric authority and the nuanced subjectivities of those who participate in such communities. We invite public health scholars and practitioners to appreciate a way of engaging with pro-ana communities that is geared less towards the impetus to control, censor or clinically intervene and more towards understanding them as sites through which individuals living with eating disorders can be in the world, and that both reveal and help us understand the centrality of ambiguity and contradiction to subjectivity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)522-533
    Number of pages12
    JournalCritical Public Health
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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