“If you start again, don’t worry. You haven’t failed”. Relapse talk and motivation in online smoking cessation

  • Marie-Thérèse Rudolf von Rohr


In this article, I explore how relapse following initial smoking cessation is discursively construed and how participants position each other to enhance motivation in two different settings: smoking cessation forums and websites from the UK. In my qualitative discourse analysis, I focus on identity construction and relational work to pinpoint how users are re-motivated when they have not managed to reach their goal of becoming smoke-free. Results show an imbalance regarding how extensively relapse is covered in a selection of smoking cessation forums and websites. Relapsing is constructed as a normal part of a quitting journey and not as a deviation from it. Similarly, the moral obligation of making healthy lifestyle choices influences the construction of the relapsed self. My analysis also revealed that writers resort to face-enhancing relational work strategies to console readers and connect with them. Further, while referring to personal experience was a means of normalizing relapses in forums, websites used numerical evidence to back up their informational statements. In both settings, relapsing is transformed into a beneficial learning experience, thereby positioning quitters as having an advantage over new quitters. The findings suggest that there is a common discourse of how relapsing is conceptualized, both on professional and peer-to-peer sites. This paper adds to previous studies of online health practices, providing a different angle by not focussing on success stories. It adds interesting insights by comparing peer-to-peer practices to monologic websites, and it shows that an interpersonal pragmatic approach allows investigating how participants try to impact each other’s decision-making.
Rudolf von Rohr, M.-T. (2017). “If you start again, don’t worry. You haven’t failed”. Relapse talk and motivation in online smoking cessation. Linguistik Online, 87(8). https://doi.org/10.13092/lo.87.4174