3 Youth, Health and Morality: Body Work and Health Assemblages

  • Julia Coffey


In the current neo-Liberal context, individuals are both required and expected to be responsible for managing the health and wellbeing of their bodies (Moore 2010). A range of sociological work has argued the current emphasis on individual responsibility for managing health and the body is indicative of the ways in which neo-Liberal rationality permeates contemporary social life (Rose 1996; Lupton 1999). This chapter draws on data from a qualitative study to explore the ways in which moral imperatives of health and wellbeing shape young people’s negotiations of health and body work practices. Body work practices, which include diet, exercise and all practices aimed at modifying the body’s form or appearance, are a central way in which young people are encouraged to be increasingly responsible for their own health and wellbeing. The moral and individualistic dimensions of ‘health’ were apparent in many instances in interviews with young people. Many spoke of how they felt ‘lazy’ or ‘slack’ if they had not been exercising regardless of the broader contexts of their lives such as long working hours in casualised industries. Where ‘fit, healthy’ bodies were broadly described as ‘deserving of respect’, people with ‘overweight’ were described as moral failures, lacking in self-esteem and self-restraint. The chapter combines a Deleuzo-Guattarian theorisation of health as an assemblage to analyse the ways in which moral imperatives function through discourses and affects associated with neo-Liberal conditions. From this perspective, health as an assemblage is comprised (among numerous other things) by discourses, such as those which emphasise individualised self-responsibility and bodily perfection in Western, neo-Liberal contexts, as well as through affects which mediate a body’s capacities (what a body can do) (Coffey 2014). The examples and analysis aim to show the ways in which moral imperatives of health function through discourses of neo-Liberal self-responsibility, and through affect and embodied sensations, such as in the importance of ‘looking healthy’ and ‘feeling healthy’ and ‘worry’ associated with becoming overweight.


Young People Body Image Eating Disorder Moral Imperative Health Function 
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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Coffey
    • 1
  1. 1.University of NewcastleNewcastleAustralia

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