Saturday, September 10, 2011

Patricia A. Adler and Peter Adler's "The Tender Cut"

Patricia A. Adler is Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Peter Adler is Professor of Sociology at the University of Denver. They are the co-authors and co-editors of numerous books, including Peer Power, Paradise Laborers, and Constructions of Deviance. Both Adlers collaboratively received the 2010 George Herbert Mead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, The Tender Cut: Inside the Hidden World of Self-Injury, and reported the following:
Self-injury, which has gone by several names including self-harm, deliberate self-harm syndrome, self-mutilation, self-cutting, self-injurious behavior, and self-wounding, emerged from obscurity in the 1990s and spread dramatically as a typical behavior among adolescents.

Our research, just published as The Tender Cut, offers the widest base of knowledge about this behavior, grounded in ten years of over 135 in-depth life history interviews with self-injurers located all over the world and tens of thousands of Internet messages and emails.

Although self-injury has existed for centuries, prior to the mid ‘90s it was practiced surreptitiously by people who mostly self-invented it. Page 99 begins by discussing the problems self-injurers have faced in managing a behavior widely regarded as deviant:
Without a deviant subculture to help them legitimate their acts, early self-injurers, like other loner deviants, had feelings of disapproval and embarrassment about their behavior… One male posted a note on a self-injury Website discussing the nature of this shame:
You might feel alone in your self-injurious activities. This may be due to the fact that you previously did not know anyone else intentionally hurt themselves. Self-injury is a behavior that’s rarely discussed in society and has not been exposed by the media; and for these reasons you might have felt alone. You may feel different or “crazy” or abnormal. You may feel shame about your self-injury because you have not yet realized that there are other people who also hurt themselves.
But in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, self-injury began to spread to a wider population and take on a whole new meaning. Celebrities came out about their behavior, and forums on the Internet arose where people could express a hidden but highly emotional side of themselves, one that they could not share with friends or family members. The Tender Cut describes the transformation of this behavior from one practiced by loner deviants in hidden and stigmatized ways to one that has “come of age,” supported by Internet subcultures and support groups.

The host of Internet self-injury subcultures hold different norms and values, like most deviant subcultures, and stratify themselves along a continuum of acceptance toward self-injury. These sites offer not only help but an alternate to the psycho-medical community’s model of self-injury as pathological. They aid people in realizing that this behavior does not mean that they are crazy, weak-willed, sick, or bad. In fact, our longitudinal data show that many people who struggle with self-injury during their formative years, like those who try drugs, eating disorders, or delinquency, grow out of it to live fully functioning productive lives as professionals, parents, spouses, without further problems.
Learn more about The Tender Cut at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue