health, consumerism & religion

‘The Healthy Body as Religious Territory” in: Catherine Brace et al. (eds.): Emerging Geographies of Belief, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars 2011 

Parallels between health, consumerism and religion are commonly established on the basis of similarities in appearance: Sites of consumption increasingly look like sites of worship,“cathedrals of consumption” (Ritzer 1999: 8ff.). At the same time consumerism seems to have consumed religion (Clapp 1998: 174) compelling religion itself to engage in a promotional culture (e.g. O’Guinn and Belk 1989), matching the cathedrals of consumption with “shopping mall churches” (Sargeant 2000: 106). The cult of the healthy body in consumer culture, the promise of health as beatitude, as“state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (WHO 1986) appears to constitute a new form of idolatry replacing salvation in eternity with fitness in an ever expanding life-span. Religions had already discovered the therapeutic aspects of belief as a selling point when they got entangled in the “web of the market” in antebellum America (Moore 1994:136ff.).
 One could say the body and its health has become a territory of both visible and“invisible religion” (Luckmann 1967) resacralizing the supposedly secularized sphere of everyday life. To go beyond the impressionistic I will approach the issue by developing such parallels from structural properties of religion, namely the “dialectics of probation” (Oevermann 1995) and“substance logic” (Dux 1982).
 I will argue that while religious production of meaning has become problematic in a consumer culture, consumerism itself offers effective and flexible alternatives. Religiosity migrates from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples into theconsuming body; and by this the nature of religiosity is significantly altered.  This body is no longer the “temple of the Holy Spirit” but the temple of the consumer self. 

Talcott Parsons, the Sick Role and Chronic Illness

(originally titled “Chronic Parsons: the obsolescence and persistence of the sick role in the face of chronic illness and chronic health”)

now published in Body & Society


Parsons’ sick role concept has become problematic in the face of the increased significance of chronic illnesses and the growing emphasis on lifestyle-centred health promotion. Both developments de-limit the medical system so that it extends into the world of health, fundamentally changing the doctor-patient relationship. But as the sick role is firmly based on the reciprocities of a resiliently capitalist achievement society it still informs normative expectations in the field of health and illness. The precarious social position of chronic patients between being governed by and being consumers of medicine, I will argue, can only be adequately understood if one involves, as Parsons did, the moral economy surrounding health and illness.

open access pre-publication accepted manuscript

Geld und Gesundheit: Konsum als Transformation von Geld in Moral

ISBN 978-3-8325-0697-1
450 Seiten, 40.50 EUR

In der lebensstilzentrierten Gesundheitsförderung werden bestimmte Lebens- und Konsumstile moralisch aufgewertet, andere abgewertet. Auf welche gesellschaftlichen Legitimitätsstrukturen bezieht sich dieser moralisierende Diskurs? Dieser Frage geht die vorliegende Arbeit in Form von Interpretationen von Gesundheitsaufklärung, Fernsehwerbung und Konsumenteninterviews nach. In theoretischen Exkursen zu monetärer Solidarität, Konsumreligion und romantischer Ethik des Konsums werden Aspekte des Gesundheitsdiskurses in Beziehung zur moralischen Grammatik kapitalistischer Gesellschaften gesetzt.