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Alleviating Survivor Loneliness: The Value of Expressive Gift Systems in Peer-to-Peer Online Patient Survivor Networks

Qualitative Consumer Research

ISBN: 978-1-78714-492-7, eISBN: 978-1-78714-491-0

ISSN: 1548-6435

Publication date: 1 August 2017



The health industry is rapidly adopting digital services and face-to-face offerings are being replaced by e-services. One example is peer-to-peer survivor networks for cancer patients. This study investigates the virtual exchanges in survivor networks and whether these exchanges are valued for economic, symbolic, or expressive worth. The research seeks to address whether the alleviation of loneliness is possible.


The qualitative work in this study utilizes netnographic explorations and in-depth interviews with cancer survivors, average age 62, to investigate the social exchange continuum in peer-to-peer online patient survivor networks.


This study shows that technological innovations can aid survivorship when the exchanges are meaningful. Meaningful interactions within gift systems are valued for expressive worth and are established upon the notion of selfless gifts where the giver expects nothing in return. For networks to operate via expressiveness, informants must be open and vulnerable to others. Findings show that biographical narratives are useful tools for creating an expressive environment and givers become more giving after engaging in selfless acts. The intangibility and immaterial nature of virtual gifts creates a collective identity and fosters an aggregate extended self.

Social implications

Implications emphasize the need among survivors of trauma to connect with others. Digital technologies allow connections on a global scale, so survivors can find others with similar needs. Peer-to-peer networks provide a way for survivors to meet, interact with, and extend their aggregate selves through other survivors, while experiencing a transcendent sense that they are part of something bigger than self alone.



Hollenbeck, C.R. and Patrick, V.M. (2017), "Alleviating Survivor Loneliness: The Value of Expressive Gift Systems in Peer-to-Peer Online Patient Survivor Networks", Qualitative Consumer Research (Review of Marketing Research, Vol. 14), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 139-160.



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