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‘The Internet Both Reassures and Terrifies’: exploring the more-than-human worlds of health information using the story completion method
  1. Deborah Lupton
  1. Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW Sydney, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Professor Deborah Lupton, UNSW, Kensington, New South Wales 2052, Australia; d.lupton{at}


Lay people are now encouraged to be active in seeking health and medical information and acting on it to engage in self-care and preventive health practices. Over the past three decades, digital media offering ready access to health information resources have rapidly expanded. In this article, I discuss findings from my study that sought to investigate health information practices by bringing together the social research method of story completion with more-than-human theory and postqualitative inquiry. Narratives of health, illness and embodiment are powerful ways to portray people’s experiences and identify the shared cultural norms and discourses that give meaning and context to these experiences. The research method of story completion is a novel approach to eliciting narratives that involve participants’ responses to hypothetical situations. Participants were asked to use an online questionnaire format to complete three stories involving characters faced with a different health problem. This approach sought to identify the human and non-human enabling resources with which the characters engaged as they tried to address and resolve their problem, with a particular interest in how both digital technologies and non-digital resources were used. This analysis highlighted the affective and relational dimensions of humans’ enactments of health, illness and embodiment. The stories surfaced the relations of sense-making, embodiment and care and how they are distributed between humans and non-humans. Agential capacities were closed off by elements such as too much information online creating confusion or anxiety, self-consciousness about the appearance of one’s body, feelings of embarrassment and shame, or not wanting to appear to be too weak or vulnerable. Capacities for change, wellness and recovery were opened by finding helpful information, making connections with others and finding therapeutic spaces and places.

  • patient narratives
  • sociology
  • arts in health/arts and health
  • philosophy of medicine/health care
  • internet

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  • Contributors I am the sole author of the article and was solely responsible for generating and analysing the research materials presented and writing the article.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the University of Canberra Human Ethics Committee (HREC 17-92).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.