On the Accountability of Changing Bodies: Using Discursive Psychology to Examine Embodied Identities in Different Research Settings

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Identity is typically understood as something that individuals “have” or own, an essential part of one’s psychological state that guides how we behave and how we fit into society. By contrast, the discursive psychological (DP) approach treats identity as an ongoing, active construction that is primarily achieved through discourse and social interaction. This paper documents the DP approach to identities, focusing specifically on embodied identities, and demonstrates the potential of DP for making sense of identities and embodiment in different research settings. Data are taken from three research contexts: (a) video and audio-recorded, everyday family mealtime interactions in England and Scotland, (b) audio recordings of weight management groups within the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland, and (c) video-recorded interviews involving people with alopecia and their use of wigs in Scotland. In each of these settings, bodies were oriented to as predominantly stable and consistent, with references to changing bodies—such as changing food preferences, changing weight or body size, and changing hair color—as marked and accountable in each interaction. This paper contributes to a growing body of research that argues that bodies are not separate from discourse, and rather than examining “body talk” and embodied identity work, can illuminate not only identity research but also the potential of discursive approaches to psychology and interaction.

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