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Teaching the Politics of Obesity: Insights into Neoliberal Embodiment and Contemporary Biopolitics

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This article reflects on the author's experiences teaching an undergraduate lecture course on the politics of obesity. The course involved a critical examination of the construction and representation of the so-called epidemic of obesity and the major causal explanations for the rise in obesity. Students were unusually discomfited by the course and invoked pedagogical concerns and instructor embodiments in expressing their reactions. Student responses demonstrate how obesity talk reflects and reinforces neoliberal rationalities of self-governance, particularly those that couple bodily control and deservingness and see fatness as weakening the health of the body politic. The course also animated many students to scrutinize more deeply their own diet and exercise practices. I argue that the intensity of reaction stems from the productive power of the discourse of obesity and considerable investment students had in their bodies as neoliberal subjects. Besides classroom observations, the data in this paper are taken from student journals.
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Keywords: biopolitics; critical pedagogy; neoliberal governmentality; obesity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Community Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz CA, USA;, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2009-11-01

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