chapter  5
‘Carrying on’ I: maintaining the commitment
Pages 27

The first phase is short – a few weeks – and results in the loss of a few kilos; however, the second and third phases of the career last much longer – several months, for example – and lead to much more substantial weight loss. When the interviewees referred to this moment in their trajectory, they talked about ‘carrying on’, sometimes in a repetitive fashion (‘I carried on, carried on, carried on’). However, analysis of my interview corpus shows that the period during which they ‘carried on’ in fact spanned not one but two phases. These overlapped to some extent but could nonetheless be distinguished from one another. In the first of the two (the second phase in the anorexic career), the question of whether to carry on or whether to stop was an issue for the interviewees themselves. In the second of the two (the third phase in the anorexic career), the situation was increasingly defined by external actors instead, who framed it in terms of the interviewees ‘not stopping’. The initial weight loss – which originally generated positive reactions – continued throughout these two phases. By the second phase, though, it had gradually reached the stage where a ‘circuit of career agents’ had formed taking certain interviewees ‘from civil to patient status’ (Goffman 1961, 142). In this sense, the boundaries between the two phases were not strictly demarcated: these two definitions of the situation progressively entered into competition during the second phase of the anorexic career, before the external definition was established and the ‘circuit of agents’ led to diagnosis and hospitalization. This chapter will look at the first of these two periods of carrying on from the point of view of the interviewees – as ‘the commission of a given act’, to use Becker’s terms. In chapter six, I will go on to look at the reactions that act generates and the effects these have on the interviewees – in other words, the ‘definition of that act as deviant’1.