[Events] Reminder: Sociology Seminar Wednesday, 2-3pm; CG054

Lee.Monaghan Lee.Monaghan at staffmail.ul.ie
Tue Dec 8 17:42:09 GMT 2009


Seminar Wednesday 9th December, 2-3pm; CG054


"Do as we say": a narrative study of women's experiences of weight management in Ireland.


This research takes as its point of departure the assertion that there is a set of normative social expectations in Western societies that constitute an ideal body type for women described by Bordo (1993, 2003) as the thin, slender, youthful and 'healthy' body.  Debates on obesity, being overweight, fatness, weight management, and dieting and weight loss can be scrutinised in terms of individualism, the privatisation of risk, self-surveillance, disciplined bodies, moral rectitude and the participation of the citizen in society as consumer.  These, in turn, are enmeshed within a neo-liberal political philosophy that paradoxically enables and allows much freedom of choice including for example, over what is eaten, when eating occurs and how eating is done while simultaneously encouraging individuals to subscribe to dictated norms and standards and become responsible citizens that do not become burdens on the state.  It is through the body that much of this responsibility is made visible.  

Weight management is both a personal and social experience that involves a complex set of practices, feelings and behaviours. Interested in questions about micro-level social processes related to women's formation of their sense of body and self, I hypothesise that weight management can be used as an investigative lens to examine aspects of the relationship between bodies and identities. Thus, an exploration of women's experiences of weight management can enable insight into personal and social identities. In addition, positing that women are immersed in hetero-normative ideals that emphasise the acquisition of what Bordo (1993) terms a 'normalised body', this study addresses the potential domination of women's bodies through the deployment of discourses of heterosexual and idealized feminine bodies in weight management strategies and practices. But it is also evident that there is potential for subversive, transgressive and agentic acts in women's differential experiences of weight management as they negotiate issues related to body size and emerging identities. 


The wider PhD study from which this paper is drawn involves a narrative based inquiry of women's experiences of weight management. I have completed one year's observation across four group slimming classes in the North West and midlands of Ireland and 28 narrative interviews with 14 women. Group slimming classes involve the telling of multiple stories on a weekly basis including stories by the members, the leaders and the organisation running the classes as well as wider societal stories and narratives that infuse the telling of the other types of stories. Although membership of the classes can be transitory, story-telling is a constituent element. Members account for their weight related behaviour, food choices and exercise regimes through individual moments of story-telling with the leaders at the weigh-in and group interactions with other members and the leaders at key times during the classes. Leaders narrate the organisation's main story about weight management and weight loss and intersperse this with elements of their own stories of weight loss. In this paper, I will initially establish the theoretical import of adopting a narrative approach to the study of women's weight management experiences. I will then focus on some of the body work stories told by the women and the leaders to illustrate the complex and contradictory nature of immersion in weight management. An emerging typology of narratives as well as a meta-narrative of weight management will also be considered. 


Biographical Details

Jacqueline O'Toole

Government of Ireland Scholar 2008-2010                     Lecturer in Social Research [on career break]

PhD candidate                                                              Department of Humanities

Department of Political Science and Sociology            IT Sligo


otoole.jacqueline at itsligo.ie j.otoole3 at nuigalway.ie 


N.B. This seminar replaces the originally advertised seminar, below, which will be held next semester:

Behind The Headlines: 

Media Coverage of Social Exclusion in Limerick City - The Case of Moyross

Eoin Devereux, Amanda Haynes and Martin J. Power

Department of Sociology, University of Limerick 


Seminar convenor:

Dr. Lee F. Monaghan 
Senior Lecturer 
Department of Sociology 
University of Limerick 

tel: 00353(0)61-213346

e-mail: lee.monaghan at ul.ie



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