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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Internet Self-Injury Forums as Communities of Social-Cognitive Literacy Practice

  • Author(s): Brett, Jeremy
  • Advisor(s): Mahiri, Jabari
  • et al.

This exploratory study provides an interpretive framework and empirical evidence supporting the proposition that internet forums devoted to intentional self-injury may fruitfully be conceptualized as communities of social-cognitive literacy practice. This conceptualization may facilitate the development of theory, research, and clinical practice involving individuals for whom the practice bears psychological meaning, while also providing theoretical surplus value for research into psychology, digital media, critical pedagogy, and the study of virtual lives. I present a selection of discussion threads drawn from seven of the most visible Internet forums devoted to self-injury, providing a range of ethnographic and social-cognitive observations concerning the forms and apparent functions of these sites, as articulated by their members. The guiding theoretical framework emerges from points of instructive overlap between social- cognitive psychology and the developing field of digital media and learning. Forums appear to offer members interactive, real-time community as well as a shared, dynamic repertoire of social-cognitive constructs with which to interpret lived experiences and explore their implications for socialization and identity development. Through ethnographic observation and discourse analysis of forums and discussion threads, I reveal forum discussions to be social and cognitive ecologies in which members represent and reflect collectively on experiences, thoughts, and social categories, but in which such discussions tend to remain at a generally concrete level of cognitive operations.

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