“SPILLING MY HEART TO COMPLETE STRANGERS”: PRISONERS’ FAMILIES COMMUNICATIVELY CONSTITUTE RESILIENCE ONLINE FROM DISENFRANCHISED GRIEF

2019-12-03T15:35:35Z (GMT) by Linda Hughes-Kirchubel
This research advances communication theory, resilience, and concepts of disenfranchised grief. Data are posts collected from an online forum called PrisonTalkOnline (PTO), and the research investigates how families of prisoners offer and access resilience through online communication, specifically in response to grief that is unsupported by friends, family and community. The research extends theoretical concepts about the Communication Theory of Resilience (Buzzanell, 2010) into online communities experiencing disenfranchised grief (Doka, 1989, 2002, 2008), and with respect to the nature of resilience online.

This dissertation explored whether and how disenfranchised grief acted as a trigger for resilience responses in an online forum created by members of a marginalized group, namely, family and other loved ones of prisoners. Research goals were threefold: first, to examine online posts of prisoners’ families to identify and examine the nature of disclosures of disenfranchised grief; second, to examine replies to those disclosures to see whether communicators communicatively constitute resilience; and third, to define the networked construction of communicatively constituted resilience in these online conversations and reveal new knowledge about the nature of resilience online. Specifically, the researcher asked: How is disenfranchised grief expressed in the originating PrisonTalk.com posts? What CTR processes emerge as the top ways PTO members communicate resilience in replies to expressions of disenfranchised grief? How do these particular processes manifest themselves communicatively in the PTO online forum? What are the characteristics of resilience found in the networked connections of these online conversations?

Through text mining of PTO originating posts and replies to these posts, content analyses of these posts-replies, and semantic network analyses of these data, this dissertation contributes theoretically to the linkage of the Communication Theory of Resilience (CTR) and disenfranchised grief, to how and why people engage on PTO, to which CTR processes are more frequently enacted and why, and to the dual-layer , self-other, resilience processes in which resilience labor enables both identification with an online organizing community like PTO and identities aligned with empathy and sense of normalcy. Through semantic network analysis, this research reveals CTR processes as dialogic in nature, embedded in networked connections between conversations about “my” and “your” experiences. These findings have the potential to impact those working in the media, the justice system, and advocacy for the incarcerated so that they can better respond to the needs of families of the incarcerated.