A corpus-assisted study of the discourses of infertility in UK blogs, news articles and clinic websites

Kinloch, Karen and Baker, Paul (2018) A corpus-assisted study of the discourses of infertility in UK blogs, news articles and clinic websites. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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Infertility, the inability to have children when this is desirable, is reported to affect 1in 6 couples in the UK. The experience of infertility has become increasingly ‘medicalised’ (Conrad, 2004) in the context of rapid developments in assisted reproductive technologies, leading Greil et al., (2010) to posit that “the social construction of health and illness is perhaps even more striking in the case of infertility than it is for other conditions”. While there is considerable work into the social aspects of infertilty, as yet there is almost no research into the linguistic or discursive representations of infertility, an absence addressed by this thesis, in the research question what are the discourses of infertility? The combination of corpus linguistics and discourse analysis (CADS) has been fruitfully employed previously in the study of a range of social phenomena (Partington et al., 2013; Baker et al., 2008), including health issues such as depression (Hunt, 2013) and is the approach adopted in this study. Crucial to CADS is the use of comparison, this requirement is met in this thesis by using three text types on the topic of infertility; 1) weblogs written by people experiencing infertility, 2) news reports on the topic of infertility, and 3) fertility clinic websites, all collected in the UK context. I apply a combination of corpus linguistic methods to identify salient linguistic features, and close reading of these features in context to identify traces of discourses (Sunderland, 2004) around the topic of infertility in the three text types. Unique to the methodology of the thesis is the use of the Patterns tool in the Wordsmith suite to identify repeated collocate patterns around a word of interest and identify features for close analysis. Through this process of linguistic analysis and contextual reading, four overarching discourses of infertility were identified; 1) the transformative effect of infertility, 2) medicalised (in)fertility, 3) the marketization of reproduction, and 4) parenthood as privilege and imperative. These discourses encompass multiple, intersecting subdiscourses which operate interdiscursively within and across the three text types studied. The increased awareness of these discourses has the potential to improve understanding of practitioners in the field of infertility, especially frontline staff and thus improve the experience of those accessing services. On a societal level, to critically appraise dominate discourses around a condition can be a conduit to challenging those discourses which are problematic.

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20 Aug 2018 13:56
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26 Jan 2024 00:59