Advertisement

The Ease of Hard Work: Embodied Neoliberalism among Rocky Mountain Fun Runners

  • Jessie K. LunaEmail author
Article
  • 69 Downloads

Abstract

In contemporary Western countries, thin, fit, and “healthy” bodies operate as important markers of social status. This paper draws together Foucauldian and Bourdieusian literatures on this topic to investigate how “embodied neoliberalism” (internalized individualism and self-responsibility) intersects with performances of “embodied cultural capital” (high-status markers used to create social distinction). Through an ethnographic case study of upper-middle class white “Fun Runners” in Boulder, Colorado, I ask how people with culturally valued thin, fit bodies enact social status and produce exclusion in an interactional setting. My findings challenge a straightforward translation of “hard work” into status, as we might expect based on neoliberal discourse. Instead, I argue that runners engage in two simultaneous (seemingly paradoxical) forms of boundary work: First, they perform hard work, discipline, and deservingness – drawing boundaries against those who do not engage in the work of bodily discipline; Second, they perform ease and fun – drawing boundaries against those who lack the habitus to make this work appear easy and natural. I contend that the resulting performance of the “ease of hard work” makes the status of thin, fit bodies appear both earned and natural, a doubly effective means of producing exclusion and legitimizing status. These findings reveal that embodied neoliberalism intersects with race and class-based habitus, while also shedding light on how people in privileged positions claim to “deserve” their status through narratives of color-blind meritocracy despite evidence of structural inequalities.

Keywords

Cultural capital Healthism Fitness Boundary work Meritocracy Color-blindness 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This paper has benefitted immensely from close readings and feedback from Jill Harrison, Mathieu Desan, Sanyu Mojola, Christina Sue, Amy Wilkins, Isaac Reed, Leslie Irvine, Jennifer Pace, Aaron Johnson, Andrew Gutierrez, Jamie Vickery, Laurent Cilia, as well as incisive comments from anonymous reviewers. Earlier versions of this paper were also improved through conversations at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and the American Association of Geographers. Completion of this paper was supported by a writing grant from the American Association of University Women.

References

  1. Andreyeva, Tatiana, Rebecca M. Puhl, and Kelly D. Brownell. 2008. Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995–1996 through 2004–2006. Obesity 16: 1129–1134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ayo, Nike. 2012. Understanding health promotion in a neoliberal climate and the making of health conscious citizens. Critical Public Health 22: 99–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barnett, Clive, Nick Clarke, Paul Cloke, and Alice Malpass. 2008. The elusive subjects of neo-liberalism: Beyond the analytics of governmentality. Cultural Studies 22: 624–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bellah, E. N., R. N., Bellah, S. M. Tipton, W. M. Sullivan, R. Madsen, A. Swidler, W. M. Sullivan, and S. M. Tipton. (2007). Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California press.Google Scholar
  5. Bobrow-Strain, Aaron. 2012. White bread: A social history of the store-bought loaf. Boston: Beacon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2006. Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  7. Bordo, Susan R. 2003. Unbearable weight: Feminism, Western culture, and the body. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  8. Boulder Economic Council (2018) Market profile Boulder Colorado, January.Google Scholar
  9. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1978. Sport and social class. Social Science Information 17: 819–840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A social critique of the judgment of taste. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1986. The forms of capital. In Handbook of theory and research of for the sociology of education, ed. J. Richardson, 241–258. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  12. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. The logic of practice. Redwood City: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Acts of resistance: Against the tyranny of the market. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  14. Brenner, Neil. 1994. Foucault’s new functionalism. Theory and Society 23: 679–709.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brown, Brian J., and Sally Baker. 2012. Responsible citizens: Individuals, health, and policy under neoliberalism. Anthem Press.Google Scholar
  16. Cairns, Kate, and Josée Johnston. 2015. Choosing health: Embodied neoliberalism, postfeminism, and the “do-diet”. Theory and Society 44: 153–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cherry, Elizabeth, Colter Ellis, and Michaela DeSoucey. 2011. Food for thought, thought for food: Consumption, identity, and ethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 40: 231–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Crawford, Robert. 1980. Healthism and the medicalization of everyday life. International Journal of Health Services 10: 365–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Currid-Halkett, Elizabeth. 2017. The sum of small things: Culture and consumption in the 21st century. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Davies, Christie. 1982. Sexual taboos and social boundaries. American Journal of Sociology 87: 1032–1063.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dean, Mitchell. 2010. Governmentality: Power and rule in modern society. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications Limited.Google Scholar
  22. Desmond, Jane C. 1993. Embodying difference: Issues in dance and cultural studies. Cultural Critique: 33–63.Google Scholar
  23. Dworkin, Shari L., and Faye Linda Wachs. 2009. Body panic: Gender, health, and the selling of fitness. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Ehrenreich, Barbara. 1989. Fear of falling: The inner life of the middle class. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  25. Ellingson, Laura L. 2006. Embodied knowledge: Writing researchers’ bodies into qualitative health research. Qualitative Health Research 16: 298–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Emerson, Robert M. 2001. Contemporary field research: Perspectives and formulations. Long grove: Waveland press, Inc.Google Scholar
  27. Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw. 2011. Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Featherstone (1991) The body in consumer culture. In The body: Social process and cultural theory, ed. Mike Featherstone, Mike Hepworth, and Bryan S. Turner, 170–196. London and Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  29. Fine, Gary Alan, and Ugo Corte. 2017. Group pleasures: Collaborative commitments, shared narrative, and the sociology of fun. Sociological Theory 35: 64–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Fine, Michelle, Lois Weis, Linda Powell Pruitt, and April Burns. 2012. Off white: Readings on power, privilege, and resistance. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fletcher, Robert. 2014. Romancing the wild: Cultural dimensions of ecotourism. Durham: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Foucault, Michel. 1991. Governmentality. In The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller, 87–104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  33. Gallagher, Charles A. 2003. Color-blind privilege: The social and political functions of erasing the color line in post race America. Race, Gender & Class 10: 22–37.Google Scholar
  34. Gimlin, Debra L. 2002. Body work: Beauty and self-image in American culture. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  35. Giroux, Henry A. 2015. Against the terror of neoliberalism: Politics beyond the age of greed. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Guthman, Julie. 2011. Weighing in: Obesity, food justice, and the limits of capitalism. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  37. Guthman, Julie, and Melanie DuPuis. 2006. Embodying neoliberalism: Economy, culture, and the politics of fat. Environment and Planning D 24: 427–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Harvey, David. 2005. A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Hickcox, Abby. 2012. Green belt, white city: Race and the natural landscape in Boulder, Colorado. Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 29: 3.Google Scholar
  40. Hilgers, Mathieu. 2013. Embodying neoliberalism: Thoughts and responses to critics. Social Anthropology 21: 75–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Holohan, Meghan. 2014. Fittest city? Boulder, Colorado once again tops the list. Today.com, April 5.
  42. Holt, Douglas B. 1997. Distinction in America? Recovering Bourdieu’s theory of tastes from its critics. Poetics 25: 93–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hutson, David J. 2016. Training bodies, building status: Negotiating gender and age differences in the US fitness industry. Qualitative Sociology 39: 49–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Jennings, Jay. 2011. Why is running so white? Runner’s World, November 14.Google Scholar
  45. Johnston, Josée, and Shyon Baumann. 2014. Foodies: Democracy and distinction in the gourmet foodscape. New York and London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Khan, Shamus Rahman. 2011. Privilege: The making of an adolescent elite at St. Paul’s school. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Khan, Shamus Rahman. 2013. The ease of mobility. In Thomas Birtchnell and Javier Caletrío, ed. Elite Mobilities, 136–148. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. Lamont, Michèle. 1992. Money, morals, and manners: The culture of the French and the American upper-middle class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lamont, Michèle, and Marcel Fournier. 1992. Cultivating differences: Symbolic boundaries and the making of inequality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  50. Lamont, Michèle, and Annette Lareau. 1988. Cultural capital: Allusions, gaps and glissandos in recent theoretical developments. Sociological Theory 6: 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Lamont, Michèle, and Virág Molnár. 2002. The study of boundaries in the social sciences. Annual Review of Sociology 28: 167–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. LeBesco, Kathleen. 2011. Neoliberalism, public health, and the moral perils of fatness. Critical Public Health 21: 153–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lizardo, Omar. 2008. The question of culture consumption and stratification revisited. Sociologica 2: 1–31.Google Scholar
  54. Lofland, John, David Snow, Leon Anderson, and Lyn H. Lofland. 2006. Analyzing Social Settings: A guide to qualitative observation and analysis. Belmont: Wadsworth.Google Scholar
  55. Luna, Jessie K. 2018. The chain of exploitation: Intersectional inequalities, capital accumulation, and resistance in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector. The Journal of Peasant Studies.: 1–22.Google Scholar
  56. Lupton, Deborah. 1995. The imperative of health: Public health and the regulated body. Vol. 90. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  57. Maguire, Jennifer Smith. 2007. Fit for consumption: Sociology and the business of fitness. London and New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Mears, Ashley. 2011. Pricing beauty: The making of a fashion model. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  59. Metzl, Jonathan M., and Anna Kirkland. 2010. Against health: How health became the new morality. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  60. Mueller, Jennifer C. 2017. Producing colorblindness: Everyday mechanisms of white ignorance. Social Problems 64: 219–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Navarro, Vicente. 2007. Neoliberalism, globalization, and inequalities: Consequences for health and quality of life. Amityville: Baywood Publishing.Google Scholar
  62. Ogden, Cynthia L., Margaret D. Carroll, Brian K. Kit, and Katherine M. Flegal. 2014. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA 311: 806–814.Google Scholar
  63. Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 2014. Racial formation in the United States. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Ong, Aihwa. 2006. Neoliberalism as exception: Mutations in citizenship and sovereignty. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pagis, Michal. 2010. From abstract concepts to experiential knowledge: Embodying enlightenment in a meditation center. Qualitative Sociology 33: 469–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Peck, Jamie, and Adam Tickell. 2002. Neoliberalizing space. Antipode 34: 380–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Peterson, Richard A., and Roger M. Kern. 1996. Changing highbrow taste: From snob to omnivore. American Sociological Review 61: 900–907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Price, Patricia L. 2000. No pain, no gain: Bordering the hungry new world order. Environment and Planning D 18: 91–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Puhl, Rebecca M., and Chelsea A. Heuer. 2009. The stigma of obesity: A review and update. Obesity 17: 941–964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Roberts, David J., and Minelle Mahtani. 2010. Neoliberalizing race, racing neoliberalism: Placing “race” in neoliberal discourses. Antipode 42: 248–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rose, Nikolas. 1999. Powers of freedom: Reframing political thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rose, Nikolas. 2001. The politics of life itself. Theory, Culture & Society 18: 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Saguy, Abigail. 2013. What’s wrong with fat? New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Saguy, Abigail, and Kjerstin Gruys. 2010. Morality and health: News media constructions of overweight and eating disorders. Social Problems 57: 231–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Shilling, Chris. 2012. The body and social theory. 3rd ed. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Stempel, Carl. 2005. Adult participation sports as cultural capital: A test of Bourdieu’s theory of the field of sports. International Review for the Sociology of Sport 40: 411–432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Talukdar, Jaita, and Annulla Linders. 2013. Gender, class aspirations, and emerging fields of body work in urban India. Qualitative Sociology 36: 101–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tavory, Iddo. 2010. Of yarmulkes and categories: Delegating boundaries and the phenomenology of interactional expectation. Theory and Society 39: 49–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wacquant, Loïc. 2004. Body & Soul: Notebooks of an apprentice boxer. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Wang, Youfa, and May A. Beydoun. 2007. The obesity epidemic in the United States—Gender, age, socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, and geographic characteristics: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Epidemiologic Reviews 29: 6–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wheaton, Belinda. 2004. Understanding lifestyle sport: Consumption, identity and difference. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Winchester, Daniel. 2008. Embodying the faith: Religious practice and the making of a Muslim moral habitus. Social Forces 86: 1753–1780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Zussman, Robert. 2004. People in places. Qualitative Sociology 27: 351–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

Personalised recommendations