Violence of the Wellbeing Imperative: On bio-Others, Rescue Missions and Social Justice

By Geneviève Rail

Within neoliberal societies, ‘wellbeing’ is understood in a strictly individual/ising way and becomes part of a dominant discourse that feeds on biomedicalisation. Wellbeing thus contributes to a ‘biomorality’ that is symbolically, physically and socially violent. Digital technologies are brought in to enhance the development and maintenance of wellbeing through self-tracking, self-diagnosis, and Skinnerian methods of learning how to act on one’s own wellbeing. The wellbeing imperative obliterates political engagement and leads to the creation of the happy, fit and productive biocitizen, which is juxtaposed against the unfit, unwell and unproductive bio-Other. In this essay, I present a feminist poststructuralist analysis that focuses on discourses and power relations in contemporary Western societies. I then critique the violence of purported ‘humanitarian’ interventions to save the ‘abject’ bio-Other. I discuss the ill-conceived ‘rescue missions’ in public health that exacerbate class divisions and reproduce patriarchal and colonial hierarchies. I speculate on the recuperation of physical activity and sport within larger corporate schemes to expand markets in the name of wellbeing. I conclude with thoughts on the place of sport sociology in the larger project of justice and social wellbeing.


  • wellbeing
  • public health
  • class
  • patriarchy
  • neoliberalism
Go to the article on