FELDER, Kay: Temporal Orders and Ontological Politics - Analyzing the Construction of Obesity as a Health Issue.


Today obesity is one of the most important but also most complex phenomena of public health issues, as well as in the center of a variety of scientific debates. So far, social scientific inquiries into obesity have largely focused on situating it within contemporary health regimes and neoliberal modes of governance. What remains under-elaborated so far are the fine-grained mechanisms that take effect in the discursive construction and the sense-making of obesity. Thus what structures our imaginations and perceptions of what obesity actually is, is still in need of scientific investigation. Drawing on research activities of the Department of Social Studies of Science (GEN_AU-funded project “Perceptions and Imaginations of Obesity as a Socio-Scientific Problem in the Austrian Context”, project lead: Ulrike Felt), this thesis aims at contributing to fill this gap by exploring how citizens negotiate obesity as an individual and collective problem and which resources they deploy in doing so. In parallel to this rising concerns over obesity, we also find a growing body of literature in social studies of science which points on the one hand to the key-importance of time when it comes to understanding our-selves and societal change, and on the other hand to the growing preoccupation of contemporary societies with future and its anticipation. Especially in discourses on obesity temporal narratives and imagined futures are omnipresent in descriptions and definitions of the phenomenon itself as well as in accounts on how obesity relates to society. Societal imaginations of how overweight and obesity develops are often embedded in narratives of progress, decay or rapid change. Time here plays a key role in defining present states of society, describing individual life-conducts and allowing projection work of possible futures to happen. Narratives of time and temporality thus are important in relating different forms of knowledge about obesity together and play a crucial part in making sense of what kind of problem obesity actually is. By bringing together studies on the construction of health and illness and work on the discursive role of time with close and detailed empirical analysis, this thesis, offers a unique ontological approach to investigate the public understanding of a complex public health phenomenon. Reflecting what it means if a specific
(temporal) order is imposed on our imaginations of a phenomenon, is crucial for understanding how we conceptualize solutions and interventions in this high-priority public health debate.