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'I've become so healthy that I can't live anymore': exploring 'health as balance' discourses and the construction of health and identity among young urban South African adults.
journal contributionposted on 2022-03-22, 06:29 authored by Michelle De Jong, Anthony CollinsAnthony Collins, Simóne Plüg
Social science research on health in South Africa tends to focus on illness and how to address health problems. Qualitative empirical research focussing on lay understandings and experiences of healthiness, or health discourses, in South Africa is fairly limited. This article addresses this gap by critically exploring how young South African adults used discourses of balance to make sense of what it means to be a healthy person and highlights the implications of these discourses for identity. Foucault's concepts of 'technologies of the self' and 'techniques of discipline' are discussed as a theoretical grounding for this paper. Data were collected from 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews, and analysed using Foucauldian discourse analysis. This paper will specifically explore a key discourse identified through the analysis: 'health as balance' and 2 interrelated sub-discourses which fall within it. Through this discourse, healthiness was constructed as requiring a broad focus on improving all aspects of one's life ('health as holistic') and the avoidance of any behaviours or emotions which could be classified as extreme ('health as moderation'). Constant, careful management of the self, or 'calibration', functions to both perpetuate a cycle of 'anxiety and control' and to obscure ways in which health discourses can be harmful or problematic.