The body as information: an emergent theory of social positioning and information behaviours in a virtual diet community

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Villanueva, Emily
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University of Alberta
The intersection of diet culture with the rise of online communities has led to the rapid growth of virtual diet communities, including the LoseIt community on Reddit. Using a conceptual framework of information behaviours in virtual communities and social positioning theory, this project studied LoseIt with three primary objectives: 1) examine the types of information being shared and exchanged in virtual diet communities, and how well these behaviours fit with Hersberger et al.’s (2007) conceptual framework of information behaviours in virtual communities; 2) explore how forum participants use information to discursively position themselves within community interactions, and; 3) discuss the implications of these results for LIS and healthcare workers. These questions were approached using constructivist grounded theory to qualitatively code and analyze a set of posts and responses shared on LoseIt, resulting in twenty-two codes. Through these codes, three distinct ways in which forum members positioned themselves in the LoseIt community were identified: explicitly, expertly, and experientially. Additionally, my findings have suggested that Hersberger et al.’s (2007) framework does not adequately address the role of information on LoseIt, and a new, substantive theory has emerged as a result. This study has set a precedent to conduct more qualitative research on virtual dieters in order to better understand and address their health-related information needs and their feelings toward the healthcare system. My results emphasize the importance of researching the information behaviours and practices of virtual dieters; ultimately, examining the ways in which health information is shared and consumed online has highlighted aspects of virtual interactions that have been previously left unexplored.
Information behaviors , Health information , Positioning theory , Grounded theory , Diet , Weight loss , Body image , Social media