Towards a postneoliberal health promotion: A journey of reifying, resisting, and reimagining health promotion in and through sport

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Dobrowolski, Sarah
Health promotion , Healthism , Sport , Children , Narrative , Post-qualitative , Rope skipping , Neoliberalism , Postneoliberalism , Critical health promotion
At its core, this dissertation is about confronting, and working toward dismantling the ideology of healthism as a key technology of neoliberalism, and specifically in how it manifests in and through behavioural forms of health promotion. I enter my interrogation predominantly through sport given that it: is one of neoliberalism’s most spectacular embodiments, is considered by many as inherently health promoting, and is where I was largely enculturated into the ideology of healthism as a young person. Ultimately, the dissertation converges on re/imagining health promotion’s ethical underpinnings, as it endeavours to support optimal human flourishing. To achieve the above, through a post-qualitative analytic approach (St. Pierre, 2014, 2018), I offer personal narrative accounts of my lived experiences of, and interpellation into, healthism and behavioural health promotion during the course of neoliberalism’s ascendency, maturation, and solidification over the past three decades. I specifically invoke the activity of rope skipping in my discussion of these matters to demonstrate in a material way the surprising reach that neoliberalism, and healthism specifically, has had into and through the most unsuspecting settings in our society. I also report on an action research project that was both the initial stimulus for, and also a means of grounding the insights that resulted from, the above reflexive investigation. The main theoretical contributions of the dissertation are three-fold. First, I advance a novel ethical orientation, critical-relational empathy, to inform future efforts to guide health promotion toward a postneoliberal praxis. Embedded within the idea of, and rationale for, critical-relational empathy is the notion of phronetic justice, where I suggest that behavioural health promotion operates as a kind of epistemic injustice that results in disembodiment, and displacement from person and place, thus inhibiting the phronesis – practical wisdom – that is necessary for human flourishing. I then close by applying the above insights to the context of sport, and rope skipping in particular, by calling for sport’s ‘radical re/wilding’ if it is to be a setting that fosters connection, and thus healthfulness, in and for the postneoliberal era that is now before us.
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