Women on the web: A feminist 'reading' of depression websites
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The focus of this paper is the use of a feminist interpretive approach, informed by material-discursive analyses to examine discourses on depression on Internet websites on depression. The paper will cover why this approach was taken, how it was implemented, our findings and the challenges that we faced. A major strategy of the National Action Plan for Depression (Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care 2000) is the dissemination of health information aimed at the prevention of depression, and associated personal, social and economic costs. The experience of depression is highly gendered with women reporting higher rates than men (NSW Health 2002). The Internet is now a major source of health information, with one in three regular Internet users seeking on-line information about health and medical conditions (ACNielsen 2000). Within this wealth of web-based health information, depression now appears as a major topic of interest. This paper explores the construction of information being made available about depression on selected Australian web-sites, through a feminist 'reading' that identifies how gender figures in (or is absent from) explanations of depression. Our interpretive practice is a critical reading of how websites circulate particular 'stories' about depression. We deconstruct the health information provided to women who access the Internet. Our interpretive practice draws upon material-discursive analyses of women's experiences of depression (Stoppard 2000, Ussher 1999). We focus on the discursive constructions of these sites, examining how ideas about depression connect with women's lives and emotions. We examine the gaps and silences that open up the possibility of other, subjugated knowledges that are based on different assumptions about emotional health, illness and women's subjectivities. In this project we positioned ourselves as Internet users, and critically engaged with the web-sites as 'texts', looking closely at each page as a text that constructed particular discourses about depression. In this reading we looked for 'how' meaning was produced 'what was said and not said'. We engaged reflexively to consider how these discourses spoke to us and about us as women - as feminine subjects who may or may not have identified as having depression when accessing the site. This approach enabled us to analyse how particular discourses and narratives about women and depression are constructed. In this way it raises awareness of how women's knowledge of self, emotions and social life become 'subjugated knowledge' within the discursive terrain of biomedicine and therapy. With these insights however, come the challenges, and we acknowledge our engagement with these discourses from the position of being women ourselves, with inherent limitations of a white, middle class academic position. Yet, we also have a strength drawn from differences in age, sexuality and urban-rural histories. Challenges also come from the biomedical establishment, where expert knowledge is valued, and recognition is limited for any approach not based on certain kinds of evidence. We reply with the thought that we are challenging the nature of that evidence, questioning the inherent power relations in its production, relations that also shape all interpretive practice. In doing so we produce another voice that problematises the very practice of 'reading' health information and the web. This also creates a reflexive space for researchers to recognise the interpretive practices that constitute knowledge in particular (gendered) ways. A reflexive approach to interpretive practice brings increased awareness and transparency, with consideration and respect for a multiplicity of voices, ending in a reading which is itself open to other readings.
Qualitative Research as Interpretive Practice, Proceedings of the Inaugural RIPPLE QRIP Conference 2003
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