The violence of the well-being imperative: On bio-Others, rescue missions, and social justice

Past and future contributions to the journal
By Geneviève Rail

Abstract: Within neoliberal societies, “well-being“ is understood in a strictly individual(izing) way and becomes part of a dominant discourse that feeds on biomedicalization. Well-being thus contributes to a “biomorality" that is symbolically, physically, and socially violent. Digital technologies are brought in to enhance the development and maintenance of well-being through self-tracking, self-diagnosis, and Skinner’s methods of learning how to act on one’s own well-being. The well-being 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 public health ”rescue missions” that exacerbate class divisions and reproduce patriarchal and colonial hierarchies. I speculate on the instrumentalization of physical activity and sport within larger corporate schemes to expand markets in the name of well-being. I conclude with thoughts on the position of sport sociology within the larger project of justice and social well-being.

  • well-being
  • public health
  • class
  • patriarchy
  • neoliberalism.
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