Assembling a health [y] subject

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Leahy, D 2012, Assembling a health [y] subject, PhD thesis, Deakin University, Melbourne, Vic.


This thesis utilises governmentality studies in order to offer an analysis of the governmental hopes and enacted technical practices of Victorian School Based Health Education. The thesis illustrates the ways in which the subject area of Health Education is assembled both officially and within the lived sites of schools and classrooms in the hope of transforming the conduct of youthful subjects. A key concern throughout the thesis is the political and moral work that gets done in the name of Health Education. The study is based on the analysis of a variety of official curriculum documents, teacher interviews, program documentation and classroom observations. The analytical concept of ‘governmental assemblages’ is deployed as a theoretical lens to understand how Health Education operates as an ‘agent’ of government. Throughout the thesis I argue that School Based Health Education is a governmental assemblage in and of itself with complex linkages both within, and to other assemblages. As a conceptual lens, it offers new ways of thinking about the ways in which contemporary approaches to government are assembled and enacted. My analysis reveals that the assemblage is made up of multiple rationalities, techniques and conceptions of the subject that have diverse historical trajectories and internal and external governmental logics. Both individualism and risk emerge as the dominant discourses that circulate throughout curricula and pedagogical assemblages.

The dominance of individualism and risk are not new phenomena in the field of Health Education. However the thesis reveals how individualism and risk are mobilised in actual settlements of curricula and pedagogy. Throughout the thesis I argue that Health Education practices individualise, responsibilise and moralise youthful health related behaviours and status. Health Education, here though is only enacting its governmental hopes in ways that are consistent with contemporary neo-liberal mentalities of rule. However, I suggest that the contours of the assemblage are not as smooth, as one might initially think. Close analysis of curricula and classrooms reveals that whilst expert risk discourses are integral in the assemblage, other hybrid and ‘affective’ risk discourses emerge within classrooms and their appearance has the potential to corrupt the assemblage. I argue however that the dominance of risk and individualism effectively means that such ruptures are smoothed over as they are redeployed to do governmental work. The thesis contributes to present understandings of the governmental hopes of School Based Health Education, as well as offering new insights as to how such hopes are translated and enacted within lived settings. Furthermore, the empirical work in the thesis illustrates some of the ways in which various curricula and classroom assemblages are mobilised through multiple expert and non-expert discourses. In concluding I suggest that Health Education’s position within the broader contemporary neo-liberal governmental assemblages limits possibilities for a critical and counter Health Education. Nonetheless I do make some tentative suggestions for a Health Education that might embrace a different learning about health, outside (or at least alongside) problematic risky health imperatives.