Friction and bodily discomfort. Transgender experiences of embodied knowledge and information practices

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

OP auditorium (L10), Linnanmaa

Topic of the dissertation

Friction and bodily discomfort. Transgender experiences of embodied knowledge and information practices

Doctoral candidate

Master of Arts Aira Huttunen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Humanities, Information studies

Subject of study

Information Studies


Professor Ian Ruthven, University of Strathclyde


Docent Terttu Kortelainen, University of Oulu

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Bodily experiences, affects and stigma shape the information practices of transgender individuals

Despite rising awareness of gender diversity among Western societies, several barriers to information availability exist. There is a need for knowledge on gender diversity in healthcare and schools, as transgender people face stigma and marginalisation especially in these settings. The term transgender can be used as a broad concept to refer to people who have moved away from the gender they were assigned at birth and/or to people who cross the boundaries constructed by their culture to define and contain that gender.

This thesis focuses on transgender individuals’ information practices, including encountering, seeking, creating, sharing, using, avoiding and hiding information. The findings of this research foreground the interconnectedness of bodily experiences, affects and stigma within the experiences of transgender individuals, indicating how these elements can shape their information practices during gender transition.

According to the results of this research, information on gender diversity is difficult to find. The results indicate that schools, healthcare providers and the media do not offer sufficient information on gender diversity. Institutions, including schools and healthcare providers, were not helpful for the interviewees in terms of providing them information or giving them support; instead, they were more likely to cause stigma and engage in covert information seeking on the topic. Media representation of transgender people was often found to be deficient or even misleading. However, social media and cultural products outside mainstream media, which were found online, were able to provide information on transgender experiences.

The research suggests that the concept of early-stage information needs can be used to understand how embodied knowledge and friction between the lived experience and the social world can lead to information seeking. Moreover, the results provide novel insight into how bodily discomfort can act as a trigger for a transition.

The current research is topical in Finland, as the Finnish government has started the process of reforming the ‘transact’ – the law that currently defines changing one’s legal gender marker requires a medical diagnosis. The outcomes of the research provide new knowledge to support and inform information and healthcare providers and organisations working with transgender people by describing the variety of information needs and barriers that transgender people encounter.

The dissertation work was carried out as part of the Information Studies programme of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Oulu. The empirical material was collected through 37 interviews with Finnish people who identified as transgender. The data were analysed using qualitative content analysis and queer phenomenology. The study was funded by the Kone Foundation.
Last updated: 23.1.2024