Digital absolution: Confessional interaction in an online weight loss forum
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionConvergence. The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. 2018, 24 (4), 391-406. 10.1177/1354856516678558
Based on online observation of communication in a web-based weight loss forum, this article identifies the relevance of confession and absolution as characteristics of online interactions. Our close study of forum messages, arranged as web diaries open to comments from participants, shows that self-blaming posts elicited absolutional replies. With a primary interest in those personal posts which had a confessional character, we identified three aspects of absolution in replies: collective, prospective and supportive. Of special sociological interest is how online interaction in the forum challenges the concept of ‘civil inattention’ (Goffman, 1971) as a basic social norm for interaction in public spaces. Rather, absolutional attention defines the interactional order within the forum, in which diary authors receive feedback on their accounts of challenges, problems and failures. Studying online communication in detail may contribute to an important theoretical refinement of interactionist sociology, which currently strongly rests on studies from pre-Internet times.