Disciplined by pleasure. Pleasure as a mode of governing in health promotion

Year: 2016

Author: Björklund, Erika, Wright, Jan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research on the notion of pleasure in health promotion (HP) is rare but increasing. It has to some extent been explored for instance in relation to drugs and alcohol (Hold and Treloar 2008, Peele and Grant 1999), to sexual health (Race 2008), and to a more limited extent in relation to physical activity and dietary habits (Björklund 2008, Vogel and Mol 2014). Coveney and Bunton (2003) provide a more philosophical discussion about what pleasure in HP might entail. Greco (2009) and Race (2008) propose that a focus on pleasure in HP and a problematization of the absence of pleasure in health policy discourse would offer a well-needed shift in interpretations of HP that would contribute to the development of alternative approaches (see also Björklund 2008, Coveney and Bunton 2003, Fullagar 2002, Phoenix and Orr 2014, Segar and Richardson 2014). Drawing on Foucault’s (1991) power analysis, in which power is perceived as relational and productive, and Foucault’s (1988, 1990, 2003) and Rose’s (1999, see also Rabinow and Rose 2006) ideas about bio-power and governmentality, we will be interrogating pleasure as a technology for shaping, managing and disciplining both bodies and minds, through the acquisition of specific dispositions, tastes and abilities related to health and health practices. The purpose is to analyze the production, regulation and representation of bodies and subjects through both the presence and absence of pleasure in HP practice in four Swedish workplace interventions. The paper draws on empirical material (field notes from observations and conversations, transcripts from interviews and documents such as course books) gathered for an ethnographic study that examined how discourses of health were contextualized in educational practice, including the interactions between lecturers and participants in the four interventions. The data were read in the context of our theoretically informed questions about the pleasure discourse and what subjectivities it constituted. Our questions were concerned with what values and modes of life, what subjectivities are promoted through the notions of wellness and pleasure in health promotion? That is, what is the subjectivity proper to a notion of a healthy citizen, as produced through a discourse of pleasure? The analysis shows that the ideal subject produced by the notion of pleasure was a self-responsible, self-governing individual who was able and willing to recognize the boundary between “good”, meaning disciplined, pleasures and “bad” pleasures, as well as able to manage to stay on the “right” side of this boundary.