Mitigating the role of self in health behavior: self-externalizing talk in interviews about wellbeing of micro-entrepreneurs

Activity: Talk or presentationConference presentation


Previous studies have established that health behavior—e.g. exercising, eating and sleeping—is
regarded as a deeply moral issue by participants in institutional health interactions, for instance
weight-monitoring groups. When discussing health, people have been shown to adopt discursive
practices such as denying that they neglect health recommendations, locating the blame outside
their control and self-disclosing “unhealthy” behavior.
We adopt a discursive psychological perspective to analyze audio recorded interviews of Finnish
micro-entrepreneurs about their wellbeing and explore how they account for “unsuccessful” health
We found prevalent in our data something we call health behavior confessions, i.e., admitting a past
or present failure of “appropriate” health behavior. Many of these confessions took the form of self-
externalizing talk—linguistic practices that grammatically mitigate the role of the self, such as the
zero-person form in which the experiencing subject is omitted.
With self-externalizing talk, speakers position themselves as passive agents with regard to their
health behavior. When speakers describe having problems, they position themselves:
• not actively pursuing a solution even if they reckon it would be within their reach;
• lacking control over the problem, depicting it as inevitable and insolvable
We discuss the relationship of these linguistic practices and personal agency with regard to health
behavior and moral. By mitigating the role of self in their health behavior, speakers may manage
expectations of responsibility and accountability.
Period18 Nov 2021
Event titleNordisco: 6th Interdisciplinary Conference on Discourse and Interaction
Event typeConference
LocationUppsala, SwedenShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational

Country of activity

  • Sweden

Nature of activity

  • Scientific