Between bodies and collectivities: articulating the action of emotion in obesity epidemic discourse



Publication Details

Fraser, S. M., Maher, J. & Wright, J. (2010). Between bodies and collectivities: articulating the action of emotion in obesity epidemic discourse. Social Theory and Health, 8 (2), 192-209.


Over the last decade intense concern has developed about what has beencharacterised as an obesity epidemic in the West. This concern has been accompanied byequally intense debates over the validity of this characterisation. Many critics see theepidemic designation as part of an intensifying 'moral panic' about fat in which emotionsabout fat shape the public and scientific debate. In this article we explore thecritical literature on the obesity epidemic, noting the way in which it draws attention tothe role of the emotions in discourse on the epidemic. We argue that the action ofemotions in this context invites further theorisation, and that this theorisation needs tobe undertaken via concepts that: (1) explicitly integrate the body and the emotions withthe materialisation of political discourse, (2) avoid individualising and psychologisingaccounts of the emotions and (3) analyse the action of emotion in political debatewithout implying the need to eradicate emotion in generating more just and accurateperspectives. To this end, we turn to the work of Sara Ahmed, who has developed asophisticated account of the role of the emotions in constructing social collectivitiesthrough their engagement with ideas of the body. We argue that this theory can be usedto illuminate both the general relationship between public discourse and subjectivity,and the specific relationship between the self, the body and the oftentimes unmetimperative to slimness.

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