Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 131–147 | Cite as

Rhetorics of Health Citizenship: Exploring Vernacular Critiques of Government’s Role in Supporting Healthy Living

  • Philippa Spoel
  • Roma Harris
  • Flis Henwood


This article explores how older adults negotiate and partially counter normative expectations of “health citizenship” that stress individual responsibility for maintaining health and preventing health problems. Based on interviews with 55 participants in Canada and the U.K. about what healthy living means to them in their everyday lives, we examine how the dominant discourse of personal responsibility in participants’ responses is counterpointed by a more muted, yet significant, alternative critical perspective on the relative roles and responsibilities of government and citizens in making healthy living possible. Drawing on Hauser’s (1999) concept of vernacular rhetoric along with recent theories of environmental citizenship, we analyze how participants exercise their civic-political judgment by using a logic of dissociation to argue that what government says about the importance of healthy living is incompatible with what government does to support citizens’ abilities to eat healthily and live actively. By deploying this technique of argumentation to address structural-political-economic dimensions of healthy living, participants enact, in modest ways, an alternative, critical-collective mode of health citizenship that complicates and, at least partially, disrupts neoliberal constructions of the individually responsible, “good” health citizen.


Health citizenship Public health Vernacular rhetoric Practical reasoning 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishLaurentian UniversitySudburyCanada
  2. 2.Western UniversityLondonCanada
  3. 3.University of BrightonBrightonUK

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