Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 41, Issue 2, pp 267–283 | Cite as

The Tipping of the Big Stone—And Life itself. Obesity, Moral Work and Responsive Selves Over Time

  • Lone Grøn
Original Paper


Why is “everything I know is the right thing to do a million miles removed from what I do in reality?” This question posed by Rita, my main interlocutor and friend in a fieldwork that started in 2001–2003 and was taken up again in 2014–2015, opens up an exploration of moral work and moral selves in the context of the obesity epidemic and weight loss processes. I address these questions through the notion of “moral laboratories” taking up Mattingly’s argument that moral cultivation over time cannot be disconnected from a notion of self. Mattingly has consistently argued for a biographical and narrative self, which is processual and created in community. Along these lines, and by recourse to the German philosopher Bernhard Waldenfels’ phenomenology, I will propose the notion of a responsive self. The responsive self highlights the eventness of ongoing experimentation against the odds and captures equally pathic and agentive dimensions of a self that both persists and is transformed over time.


Obesity Phenomenology Self Moral anthropology Denmark 



I would like to thank Rita for generously sharing with me her life, her family and her reflections. Much of what I write is a response to the demands of her insights. I wish also to thank Cheryl Mattingly for being such an amazing and inspiring thinker and writer, mentor and friend. This study would not have been possible without a generous grant from the research foundation of Aarhus University, DK (Aarhus Universitets Forskningsfond) for Centre for Cultural Epidemics. I thank my colleagues at EPICENTER and the participants in the AAA panel, which preceded this special issue for ongoing reflections and discussions. Finally, thanks to the editors at Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry and to the two anonymous reviewers for very valuable critiques and suggestions, which helped me clarify and strengthen the argument.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Lone Grøn has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.KORADanish Institute for Local and Regional Government ResearchCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.Center for Cultural Epidemics, EPICENTERAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

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