Digital atmospheres: affective practices of care in Elefriends

Fascinating article on care, affect and social media by Ian M Tucker and Lewis Goodings in Sociology of Health & Illness Vol. xx No. xx 2017 ISSN 0141-9889, pp. 114.

“We nd that the caring relations developed through social media
often need to be cared for themselves.”

Ian will be doing a paper on Simondon at the Affect and Social Media Conference on May 25th at UEL.

Lewis and Ian are also contributing to the forthcoming A&SM edited book.

Abstract
This article develops the concept of digital atmosphere to analyse the affective power
of social media to shape practices of care and support for people living with mental
distress. Using contemporary accounts of affective atm ospheres, the article focuses
on feelings of distress, support and care that unfold through digital atmospheres. The
power of social media intersects with peoples support and care-seeking practices in
multiple ways and not in a straightforward model of accessing or providing
support. Indeed, we nd that the caring relations developed through social media
often need to be cared for themselves. The article draws on online and interview data
from a larger project investigating how practices of care and support are
(re)congured in the mental health-related social media site Elefriends. Users have to
negotiate the disruption of moving support online, as well as the possibility of
becoming subject to a fragility in care, in which caring for oneself becomes bound up
in the ambiguities of caring for others. We argue that understanding how experiences
of distress are shaped by social media is essential for understanding the implications
of the increased digitisati on of mental healthcare.
Keywords: social media, mental distress, digital atmosphere, affect, Elefriends
Mental distress, social media and affect
The experience of mental distress is increasingly shaped by social media (Aboujaoude and Starcevic 2015, Bauman and Rivers 2015). The proliferation of social media in the digital age has led to the development of a range of mental healthfocused social media, designed as tools for support for people suffering ongoing mental distress (see Hamm et al. 2013 for a useful review). This article focuses on the use of one social media site as a digital space that facilitates peer support. We aim to explore the affective experience of using the site Elefriends and the dilemmas and challenges that are produced in the act of co-constituting distress (and responses to distress) via an online platform. The concept of digital atmosphere is developed to analyse the individual and collective forms of affective experienc e emerging in and through social media. This builds on the growing literature on
atmospheres that has developed in affect studies (Anderson 2014, Brennan 2004). The use of the concept of atmosphere allows us to address experiences of distress through encounters between bodies and social media as technological objects, as well as digital spaces for interaction. Such encounters involve the transmission of affects that come to inform and produce individual feelings of distress.
 

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