Reconceptualising Judith Butler’s theory of ‘grievability’ in relation to the UK’s ‘war on obesity’: Personal responsibility, biopolitics and disposability

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Abstract

How does Judith Butler’s theory of ‘grievability’ relate to the neoliberal imperative to assume personal responsibility for one’s actions? And how can this be conceptualised in relation to a broader biopolitics of disposability that renders some lives dispensable and others worthy of protection? Focusing on the particular case of obesity and the UK government’s drive to reduce obesity rates in response to COVID-19, this article shows how conditions that are seen to arise from poor lifestyle ‘choices’ complicate Butler’s articulation of grievability by revealing how state and public investment can coincide with a general consensus of apathy that renders those lives both grievable and ungrievable. By simultaneously straddling the two subject positions, I argue that people living with obesity are often rendered failures within a neoliberal context that equates grievable life with productive life, thus giving way to a new ontology that renders life valuable only when it is not directly harming, or is in the service of, others.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Sociological Review
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2022

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