Den sunde fornuft: Kunsten at lede livsstilen

Martin Jessen & Rasmus Korch Svendsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The thesis examines how biopolitical problems and solutions have been constructed throughout the Danish Government’s Public Health programs from 1989 to 2009. Since the first program was launched in 1989 the concept of lifestyle has entered the field of public health promotion in connection with the occurrence of biopolitical problems related to the so called lifestyle diseases, pointed out by sciences such as biomedicine and epidemiology, and shaping the lifestyle as an object for scientific knowledge, administrative care, and technical optimization. Our first epistemological interest is to analyze how the concept of lifestyle, conceptualized as a risk for health promotion, has given rise to a new biopolitical field of intervention. With the philosophy of Michel Foucault as the analytical framework and with emphasis on his theoretical concepts of biopolitics and governmentality, we examine the managerial implications that emerge when a biopolitical rationality, that wants to intervene in order to optimize the populations health, is connected with a liberal governmental rationality, skeptical of direct regulation and with its main interest to protect the choice of free individuals and collectives. We show how this managerial paradox emerge in the health promotion programs and thereby contribute with empirical insights to a discussion that has been primarily theoretical until now. There seems to be a general absence in the Danish Foucault inspired research on health promotion, which emphasizes either a strategic level investigation of how knowledge and power form certain biopolitical problems, or a technical level investigation of how management techniques are aimed at forming individuals as health subjects. Our second epistemological interest is to analyze how it is possible to manage lifestyles, which provides a fuller explanation of Foucault’s relevance to the field of public health promotion with a research strategy that suggests sensitivity; not only for how biopolitical ideas become relevant, but also for the ways they are transformed into managerial practices. The thesis concludes that the lifestyle problem revolves around more than just what is considered unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking. The lifestyle is the name of a complex network of interconnectivity between individual habits, socio economical, environmental, and cultural risk factors, risk groups, and life style diseases. All together this forms a field of intervention where not only, what we term a neoliberal risk subject becomes manageable, but also local communities, families, workspaces, etc. The biopolitical techniques for managing the lifestyle are installed with different logics and functionalities, but are still part of the same project: that of producing self-regulating health subjects. With analytical emphasis on an anti-smoking campaign from 2009, we show how this campaign is a governmental technique that balances a biopolitical need for intervention with a liberal governmental respect for self-regulating processes.

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages103