“To be healthy to me is to be free”: how discourses of freedom are used to construct healthiness among young South African adults Academic Article uri icon


  • PURPOSE:Healthiness is constructed, in Western culture, as a moral ideal or supervalue. This paper will interrogate the assumption that health and the pursuit of healthiness is always and unquestionably positive, by exploring how discourses of health and freedom interact to reinforce the current inequalities and detract from social transformation. METHOD:Twenty young South African adults were interviewed about their understandings and experiences of health. These discussions were analysed using Foucauldian discourse analysis. RESULTS:Participants constructed healthiness as facilitating the experience of freedom, while at the same time being dependent on a personal orientation towards freedom (as opposed to merely submitting to dominant health authorities). Freedom discourses also played a role in connecting health to neoliberal discourses idealizing economic productivity and hard work. Participants were able to construct a self that is active, productive, valuable, hopeful, and self-assured when talking about health using discourses of freedom. However, these discourses also functioned to moralise and idealise healthiness, which contributed to blaming poor health on its sufferers. CONCLUSION:Health/freedom discourses can further reinforce the neoliberal value of individual responsibility by constructing self-improvement and self-work as the solution to ill-health, thereby contributing to victim-blaming and weakening support for public health interventions.

publication date

  • 2019