The Boundaries of a Good Anorexic: Exploring Pro-Anorexia on the Internet and in the Clinic

Lavis, Anna. 2011. The Boundaries of a Good Anorexic: Exploring Pro-Anorexia on the Internet and in the Clinic. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores pro-anorexia, a desire amongst some anorexics to maintain or even enhance their existing illness. Through ethnographic fieldwork in an English eating disorders unit and with participants to pro-anorexia websites this anthropological research centrally explores relationships between personhood and illness as they are articulated and experienced by anorexic informants. Without assuming pro-anorexic desire to be either fully agential of just a product of the illness itself, the thesis traces the ebb and flow of informants’ desires for anorexia and the selves, bodies and anorexia(s) that such processes enact. Moving across these two field sites reveals not only how each illuminates pro-anorexia in the other, but also that both tangibly impact on ways in which informants experience and desire anorexia in the other. This thesis therefore suggests that in both spaces relationships between anorexia and personhood, agency and desire, bodies and eating, are perhaps both ‘virtual’ and ‘actual.’ Importantly, an analytic emphasis on exploring experiences and subjectivities, rather than on corporeal emaciation, seeks to listen to informants’ desires for anorexia whilst also recognising the realities of the illness. This reveals how desire and ambivalence are often conjoined as pro-anorexia signifies both a response to, and reconfiguration of, compromised conditions of possibility. By exploring ways in which seeming antitheses such as pro-anorexia and biomedicine or desire and ambivalence are not only related, but are mutually productive, in informants’ accounts, this thesis not only addresses the largely unexplored topic of pro-anorexia; it also reflects on the practices of anthropology itself, its ethics, ways of looking – or perhaps listening – and its modes of representation.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


agency, anorexia nervosa, anthropology, body, eating, eating disorders, eating disorders treatment, ethnography, desire, illness, personhood, pro-anorexia, pro-anorexia websites, relationality, subjectivity

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



28 November 2011

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

02 Feb 2012 11:06

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:27


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