Loughborough University
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Becoming vegetarian and vegan: rhetoric, ambivalence and repression in self-narrative

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posted on 2010-10-29, 14:18 authored by Richard Carmichael
This thesis takes a discursive-rhetorical approach to becoming vegetarian and vegan. Previous studies have pointed to complexity and variety in definitions, types and criteria of vegetarianism, making `objective' studies difficult. Meat is also one of the most highly prized but ambivalently valued foodstuffs. The cultural and social meanings of diet in terms of `identities' are well established but the rhetorical approach taken here explores identity as accomplished through social practices of accounting. Rather than seeing variation and disagreement as problematic, analytic focus is on the complex and varied construction of social categories/identities in accounts and the practices of justification and criticism. Cultural ambivalences are recast as dilemmas of identity and account-giving. Diary and serial interview `case-material' was collected from 23 new and aspiring vegetarians and vegans. Participants' accounts are shown to handle a number of dilemmatic aspects of vegetarian/vegan identity; notably, a dilemma of moral superiority and a dilemma of abstinence. These dilemmas are discussed in terms of stereotype-avoidance, commitment, and the co-construction of self and Other. Such identity-management is argued to fundamentally involve relationships. Seen as contexts, texts and resources for account-giving, relationships highlight both local and biographical elements in self-construction, the inter-dependence of selfnarratives/ identities and the need for managing them, especially when identities are changed. A number of other rhetorical resources and practices used in the management of identity are also drawn out, including the discourses of lapsing, desire and temptation and accounts of suppression and repression. The management of dilemmas of accounting through presenting the self as ambivalent, conflicted and divided is underlined. Following recent work by Billig (e. g., 1999a), ambivalence and repression are further considered as discursive activities as well as claims. This leads to a discussion of identity, contradiction and repression in terms of prohibition, desire and transgression. It is suggested that becoming vegetarian or vegan may be characterised as a matter of narrating autobiographical change and the continued negotiation of various dilemmas of identity. Social psychological theories of identity and identity change are criticised and the importance of argumentation, ambivalence and commitment are emphasised. The value of a more `populated' case-study perspective within discursive psychology is also stressed and the study of discursive avoidance and repression is illustrated and recommended.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Richard Carmichael

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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  • en