tampereen yliopisto: viestintätieteiden tiedekunta: tutkimus: comet - journalismin, viestinnän ja median tutkimuskeskus: yhteystiedot: sinikka torkkola: in english:
Viestintätieteiden tiedekuntaTampereen yliopisto Viestintätieteiden tiedekunta COMS COMET
COMET - Journalismin, viestinnän ja median tutkimuskeskus

Health Communication in Social Media
2011 - 2015

The abstract of the research plan

 The research project focuses on health communication in the context of social media. It examines how social media may affect health communication and delves into the construction of ‘healths’ and ‘illnesses’. Health issues are one of the most prolific topics in the both old and new media. The internet has become one of the most important information sources for the people seeking, producing and sharing information on health issues. Furthermore, the new media are used to create virtual communities that give people opportunities to share their personal stories of illness and get support. All these new contributions to health communication show how the one-way process of mass communication where the source of health information was mainly the health institutions and professionals, and where lay people were mostly in the role of passive target groups, is losing its hegemonic position. For this research project, the social media provides a context within which to locate and analyze the plurality of (ill)healths that are constructed out of official health publicity.

 The theoretical frames of the reached projects are based on the culturally centered approach of the health communication. Central to the culture-centered approach is the understanding that communication about health involves negotiation of shared meanings embedded in socially constructed identities, relationships, social norms and structures.

 The objective of the study is to find out how health communication and healths and illnesses constructed in communication are affected by the social media. Concretely the objective means firstly the question how the social media is used by the people seeking and producing information, and how getting support and help on (ill)health issues. Secondly it means what kind of healths and illnesses are constructed in those processes. In the background of the objectives there two presuppositions: social media may activate people not only to seek health information but produce and share it, too. This activity makes illness experience more visible and dismantles the biomedical hegemony of (ill)healths.

 The research data is collected from three distinct social media and their users. These include the discussions groups of the Finnish Diabetes Association and Suomi24, and Finnish health-related blogs. The discussion groups are monitored for a period of four weeks, during which statistical data on the amount of discussion themes, thread topics and users will be gathered. Certain threads with specific topics that emerge during the monitoring will be chosen for more detailed analysis. An online questionnaire for the analysis of the discussion group participants’ background, discussion motives, habits and intensity will be prepared. Open questions will give the participants a chance to describe their views on the functionality of the discussion groups. The analysis of the internet discussion group data is divided into two phases. The data of the blogs will be collected by using ‘snowball sampling’ in which each blogger names one interesting health- or illness-related blog and the sampling will be repeated until they amount to a total of 20 blogs. Ten posts per blog,in total about 200 texts, are chosen for qualitative analysis. The data on the bloggers themselves (background, writing habits etc.) will be collected in the thematic interviews. The analysis of the data divided into two phases. The quantitative analysis describes the overall quantity of the discussions, which are then further analyzed in the qualitative analyses for the healths and illnesses constructed in the discussions, blogs, and thematic interviews.

The main theoretical and methodological challenge for this study lies in how to concretely obtain more knowledge on the plurality of (ill)healths. The medicalization problem within health communication studies is evident because of the hegemonic position of biomedical understanding of health and illness. When a study is based on a biomedical disease this can cease the perception of that disease as a socially and culturally constructed illness. For this reason, the three dimensions of healths and illnesses will be utilized in the analysis of the data. The dimensions are the medical disease, the illness (based on individual experience) and the sickness (the social order of health and illness). These dimensions were developed in a previous research project by the researcher of this project.

 The research project is funded by the Academy of Finland


Sinikka Torkkola, Senior Resarcher

sinikka.torkkola AT

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Postiosoite: Journalismin, viestinnän ja median tutkimuskeskus,
33014 Tampereen yliopisto
Käyntiosoite: Kalevantie 4, E-siipi, 3. kerros
Muutettu: 14.11.2013 16.11 Muokkaa

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