Smoke signals : patterns of agency assignment in smoking initiation and cessation narratives
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This research sought to describe and understand patterns of linguistic agency assignment in smoking cessation narratives. To this end, a corpus of these narratives gathered from an online twelve step cessation program, Voices of Nicotine Recovery (VONR), was constructed and an objective scheme for coding linguistic agency assignment in ex-smokers’ cessation narratives was developed. When discussing smoking and addiction, speakers have the option of linguistically assigning agency (i.e., the capacity for action) to themselves, others, inanimate objects, or to abstract concepts like addiction. Patterns of agency assignment may provide insight into conceptions of efficacy and responsibility for addictive behaviors. The author predicted patterns of linguistic agency based on the dominant disease model of addiction, cessation programs based in this model, and extant findings concerning self-efficacy and nicotine addiction. The author hypothesized that ascription of agency would vary during the stages of addiction such that personal agency would decline and non-personal and non-human agency would increase following addiction. Findings were consistent with predictions concerning increases in non-human agency following nicotine addiction relative to pre-initiation levels. However, observed patterns of agency assignment were not consistent with other predictions based in the disease model. It was also hypothesized that following the expected decrease in personal agency ascription after smoking initiation, personal agency assignment would then increase leading to cessation attempts. During quit attempts, personal agency assignment was expected to decrease before rising following successful cessation to its highest post-initiation levels. As predicted, the highest post-initiation levels of personal agency assignment were observed following cessation. However, the data were inconsistent with expected patterns of linguistic agency for other stages. These findings suggest that the study of linguistic agency in addiction narratives may contribute to an improved understanding of how addiction operates and the extent to which the disease model is predictive of the way in which recovering nicotine addicts view their addiction and cessation. Findings, implications, and additional areas of research are discussed.