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This Element explores approaches to locating and examining social identity in corpora with and without the aid of demographic metadata. This is a key concern in corpus-aided studies of language and identity, and this Element sets out to explore the main challenges and affordances associated with either approach and to discern what either approach can (and cannot) show. It describes two case studies which each compare two approaches to social identity variables – sex and age – in a corpus of 14-million words of patient comments about NHS cancer services in England. The first approach utilises demographic tags to group comments according to patients' sex/age while the second involves categorising cases where patients disclose their sex/age in their comments. This Element compares the findings from either approach, with the approaches themselves being critically discussed in terms of their implications for corpus-aided studies of language and identity.
This introductory chapter lays the theoretical and methodological groundwork for the rest of the monograph. It begins by introducing the topic of obesity and by reviewing existing (linguistic) research on it. It then introduces the context of the UK news media in detail. Finally, the chapter introduces the corpus of obesity newspaper articles assembled for this study and the methodological approach we use to analyse this data, which combines corpus linguistics with critical discourse studies.
Having explored the representation of obesity in the press from a range of methodological and thematic perspectives in the previous chapters, this final analytical chapter focuses on how such representations are received by readers. This chapter describes the construction and analysis of the reader comments accompanying a sample of articles about obesity published on the most-visited online newspaper in the UK – the MailOnline. By comparing these comments to their corresponding articles, the analysis demonstrates how the readers’ comments tend, in the main, to go further than the articles in the extent to which they stigmatise and shame people with obesity, thereby offering more negative and extreme takes on the obesity-related stories being reported. Yet, at the same time, the analysis also shows the ways in which readers can challenge the original articles and, indeed, other commenters, through comments which offer counter discourses to the dominant shaming ones.
This chapter examines the use of language and discourse that shames and stigmatises people with obesity and, conversely, that which could be viewed as reclaiming the concept, such as through fat acceptance and body positivity. In particular, the analysis focuses on how people with obesity are named, the characteristics that are attributed to them and the actions that they are represented as performing. This chapter also explores a theme that sits slightly outside of these foci but which emerged during the analysis; that of the ‘obese criminal’.
This chapter commences our analysis by using the keywords approach to explore uses of language (and, by extension, representations) that are characteristic of all sections of the British press when reporting on the topic of obesity. We divide our corpus into four sections according to newspapers’ format and political leaning. These four sections are left-leaning broadsheets, left-leaning tabloids, right-leaning broadsheets and right-leaning tabloids. The analysis in this chapter focuses on words that were key across all these sections (i.e. ‘shared’ keywords) and so provide an inductive ‘way in’ for exploring representations of obesity that are pervasive across the press.
This chapter concludes the monograph by summarising its main findings. The chapter aims to explain the dominance of certain patterns as well as the relative minority status of others. This chapter also offers methodological reflections on the study and asks how representations which challenge the types of stigmatising and shaming discourses observed might be challenged in future.
This chapter explores how representations of obesity intersect with discourses relating to other aspects of identity, focusing in particular on gender. The analysis is divided into two halves. The first half of the chapter examines the representation of men and women with obesity using collocation and compares the representations against each other, relating these to wider gendered discourses in society. The second half analyses a particular type of article where a focus on gender is foregrounded – weight loss narratives. Specifically, this part of the analysis compares the ways in which men’s and women’s weight loss is reported in the press. Overall the analysis reported in this chapter points to the ways in which representations of obesity can depend on the gender and sex identity of the person or group in question. While men’s obesity is represented as exceptional and their weight loss methods as unusual or extreme, obesity in women is depicted as something that is more widespread but also more harmful, including to their children and other relatives.
This chapter analyses the discourse surrounding four words that are frequent and statistically salient across all sections of the press: healthy, body, diet and exercise. Through these foci, the analysis explores how the press constructs a link between health and not having obesity, as well as how individuals are implored to eradicate their obesity and reduce their risk of obesity by regarding their bodies as entities that are separate to their selves and subjecting their bodies to gruelling treatment, including through extreme diets and intense exercise regimes. This chapter questions which of the weight loss methods widely reported across the press are likely to engender weight loss in readers and, more importantly, whether or not they are likely to encourage healthy attitudes towards the body and the self.
In this chapter, obesity representations are analysed in terms of the ways they intersect with discourses around social class. Specifically, the analysis focuses on the representation of four social class groups: i) upper class, ii) middle class, iii) working class and iv) underclass. The analysis points to a range of ways in which representations of these specific social class groups intersect with and contribute towards the broader representation of obesity. These representations are complex, with few straightforward patterns. However, generally, there are telling differences between newspapers with different political leanings. While those on the left of the political spectrum argue for the role of social inequality as a contributing factor in the development of obesity, those on the right argue that obesity is something that is not influenced by social class, as it exists at all class levels. Instead, newspapers to the political right argue that obesity results from individual factors, such as lack of self-control and over-dependence on the ‘nanny state’.
This chapter builds on the previous chapter by examining the corpus in terms of the same four sections that were analysed previously (i.e. left-leaning broadsheets, left-leaning tabloids, right-leaning broadsheets and right-leaning tabloids). Where the previous chapter focused on language and representations that were shared by these sections, and so are characteristic of the press as a whole, this chapter instead focuses on differences between them. Specifically, the analysis uses the keywords approach to compare these different parts of the press against each other, with the resulting keywords signposting discourses and representations of obesity that are characteristic of each section of the press relative to the others.
This chapter explores trends in obesity coverage over time, both in terms of areas of stability and change. Two perspectives on time are adopted. First, changes to keywords are studied on a year-by-year basis, spanning the duration of the corpus (i.e. 2008 to 2017). Second, change is studied in terms of the annual press cycle, with keywords obtained by comparing articles in terms of the particular month in which they are published (e.g. comparing articles published in January against those published in all other months combined, and so on). The first part of the analysis shows how certain discourses, namely those which represent obesity as a matter of personal responsibility, are increasing in relative frequency over time, while those which represent obesity as something resulting from social and political factors are in decline. The second part of the analysis shows how obesity representations can be driven by the news values associated with particular events in the annual (press) cycle, such as Christmas, Easter, summer holidays and the timing of children’s school terms.
Obesity is a pressing social issue and a persistently newsworthy topic for the media. This book examines the linguistic representation of obesity in the British press. It combines techniques from corpus linguistics with critical discourse studies to analyse a large corpus of newspaper articles (36 million words) representing ten years of obesity coverage. These articles are studied from a range of methodological perspectives, and analytical themes include variation between newspapers, change over time, diet and exercise, gender and social class. The volume also investigates the language that readers use when responding to obesity representations in the context of online comments. The authors reveal the power of linguistic choices to shame and stigmatise people with obesity, presenting them as irresponsible and morally deviant. Yet the analysis also demonstrates the potential for alternative representations which place greater focus on the role that social and political forces play in this topical health issue.