Enacting Evidence in a Public Health Pedagogy: Syncretism and Noncoherence

Year: 2016

Author: Williams, Benjamin, Lee, Jessica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Public health campaigns targeting overweight and obesity are ubiquitous throughout the Western world. Recently, these campaigns have attracted unprecedented levels of government funding. With such large budgets and potential health outcomes at stake, governments and health promotion agencies have been at pains to demonstrate that their strategies are “evidence-based”. Indeed, evidence-based practice has become the expected standard in health promotion policy (Marston & Watts, 2003). Yet, in overweight and obesity campaigns, the concept of evidence is often taken for granted and the processes through which strategies come to be “based” in evidence are rarely explored. Thus, given the levels of public funding used to run these strategies and the claims made about their likely efficacy, there is a strong rationale for addressing this lacuna. In this presentation, we adopt a performative understanding of research methods to examine enactments of evidence in an Australian public health campaign. This approach treats research methods as knowledge practices that simultaneously describe and enact realities (e.g., Law, 2004, 2009a). Thus, rather than idealising the notion of evidence and the ways in which it ought to have been deployed, we investigate the diverse practices through which evidence was produced by the campaign’s designers. We also explore the ways the campaign designers sought to establish connections between these enactments and negotiate any differences that emerged. To do so, we analyse data obtained from semi-structured interviews with the six campaign workers responsible for designing the campaign. Consistent with the performative understanding we have adopted, we analyse these data using a material-semiotic approach (e.g., Law, 2009b; Mol, 2010). Our analysis illustrates the various modes of syncretism used by the campaign designers to deal with noncoherent evidence in the process of assembling an evidence-based, public health pedagogy (e.g., Law et al, 2014).