Troubling the notion of the 'Stone Age' in health promotion: A gender analysis

Year: 2012

Author: Bjorklund, Erika, Wright, Jan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper describes and discusses how gender is constituted in a Swedish workplace health promotion intervention which focused on diet and physical activity, through the resources of what we have called a 'Stone Age' discourse. The paper draws on material gathered for a larger study that examined how discourses of health are contextualized in educational practice and interaction between educators and participants in four different workplace health promotion interventions. The purpose of the interventions was to help employees change (improve) their lifestyle as concerns dietary and physical activity habits. Data was collected for the original study by ethnographic methods such as participation observation of the interaction between educators and participants. Foucault's ideas about governmentality were utilized in analyzing the interactions in order to investigate how health discourses were drawn on and the technologies of power and of the self by which the participants were governed and invited to govern themselves in the name of health. From these analyses, various discourses were identified on which the participants and particularly the educators drew to constitute the healthy employee. One of these was a discourse, which in this paper is called a 'Stone Age' discourse, because of the ways in which the differences in men and women's health were explained in its most overt form by reference to women as gatherers and men as hunters, with men as a result positioned as the physically, emotionally and mentally ideal and women as the problematic and lacking 'Other'. While this discourse, in this form, may be unique to Scandinavian countries, this paper will nevertheless indicate how this notion corresponds to ideas from evolutionary theory and medicine in international research on health and wellness. This paper will also discuss the implications of such ideas about health and gender for interventions aimed at changing behavior and lifestyles. The paper will provide a discussion of the specific rationalities, truths and techniques that informed the 'Stone Age' discourse, as these contributed to shaping desires, actions and beliefs.