Journal Article in Sociological Research Online

Physical Cultures of Stigmatisation: Health Policy & Social Class – Emma Rich, Laura De Pian and Jessica Francombe-Webb


In recent years, the increasing regulation of people’s health and bodies has been exacerbated by a contemporary ‘obesity discourse’ centred on eating less, exercising more and losing weight. This paper contributes to the growing body of work critically examining this discourse and highlights the way physical activity and health policy directed at ‘tackling’ the obesity ‘crisis’ in the UK articulates numerous powerful discourses that operate to legitimise and privilege certain ways of knowing and usher forth certain desirable forms of embodiment. This has given greater impetus to further define the role of physical activity, sport and physical education as instruments for addressing public health agendas. It is argued that these policies have particular implications for social class through their constitution of (un)healthy and (in)active ‘working class’ bodies. One of the most powerful forms of stigmatisation and discrimination circulating within contemporary health emerges when the social and cultural tensions of social class intersect with obesity discourse and its accompanying imperatives related to physical activity and diet. This raises some important questions about the future of sport and physical activity as it is shaped by the politics of broader health agendas and our position within this terrain as ‘critics’. Consequently, the latter part of the paper offers reflections on the nature and utility of our (and others’) social science critique in the politics of obesity and articulates the need for crossing disciplinary and sectoral borders.

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