Blogging (Near) Death: Food Allergy “Death Talk” as Advocacy Practice

Presented at  Illness Narratives, Networked Subjects, Intimate Publics Workshop, New York University, New York, NY, November 2014

Abstract: In the online world of food allergy advocacy, few kinds of speech are as common or (for participants) as powerful as “death talk” – that is, stories about death and near death experiences resulting from anaphylactic allergic reactions. In blog posts, official advocacy organization statements, and 140-character Twitter posts, participants in the food allergy advocacy world – mostly white, middle-class mothers – publicize these stories as a way to increase awareness within the general public about the seriousness of a food allergy diagnosis. These tales are both morally and affectively charged: morally charged because they typically posit a “correct” response to an allergic reaction and aim to more widely distribute responsibility for the health of food allergic individuals; and affectively charged because these messages are crafted to instill fear and dread in the reader as a way to incite them to action. This presentation will lay out the moral and affective stylings of online food allergy death talk. In doing so, it provides a glimpse of how users seek to generate affective responses across the vast, digitized, apparently disembodied spaces of online social media platforms in our networked age.