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Contesting sphere boundaries online: Private/technical/public discourses in polycystic ovarian syndrome discussion groups

Kittie E Grace, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The internet is fast becoming a means for people to obtain information, creating a unique forum for the intersection of the public, technical, and private spheres. To ground my research theoretically, I used Jürgen Habermas‘s sphere theory. Habermas (1987) explains that the technical sphere colonizes the private sphere, which decreases democratic potential. In particular, the internet is a place for altering technical colonization of the private and public spheres.^ My research focuses on women‘s health because it is a particularly useful case study for examining sphere tensions. Historically, the biomedical health establishment has been a powerful agent of colonization, resulting in detrimental effects for women and their health. The purpose of this study is to examine how the internet encourages expert and female patient deliberation, which empowers women to challenge the experts and, thus, make conversations between the private/technical spheres more democratic. The medical expert is no longer solely in charge of the conversation, the layperson gains a voice. ^ I used PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) as a case to observe the changing sphere boundaries by studying the discourse that took place on multiple patient and doctor websites over a four-year period. Through my research, I found that the PCOS women challenge the biomedical model by appropriating medical language. By understanding the medical talk, the women are able to feel confident when discussing their health conditions with the doctor and with each other. The PCOS women also become lay-experts who have personal and medical experience with PCOS. These lay-experts give their doctors more information about PCOS reducing private sphere colonization. The PCOS patients arm themselves and others with tactics to empower patients when confronting a doctor, and encouraging patients to become representatives of the PCOS community. ^ This case study exemplifies how female empowerment can influence expert culture. The private sphere alters the technical sphere colonization, which has residual effects on the public sphere, challenging our conventional understanding of democracy.^

Subject Area

Women's Studies|Speech Communication|Health Sciences, Public Health|Web Studies

Recommended Citation

Grace, Kittie E, "Contesting sphere boundaries online: Private/technical/public discourses in polycystic ovarian syndrome discussion groups" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3412862.