Date of Degree

6-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Subject Categories

Sociology

Keywords

Bodies, Health, Neoliberalism, Running, Sport

Abstract

Running races are commonly viewed as one of the clearest examples of competition and it is less common to view training or racing as a non-competitive health practice. However, the majority of non-elite runners who participate in races do so in order to reap benefits from the training process many undertake in preparation for a race. This dissertation is a study of non-elite or amateur runners' pursuit of health, their varied understandings of health, the ironies and inconsistencies of healthism, and the folk measures of health employed within the running community. Through qualitative interviews with amateur runners in New York City about their perceptions of running, health, doping, and supplements, I explore the value non-elite runners place on health and fitness, the ways running is used to signal one's commitment to these values, and the relationship between healthist demands and training methods that border on harmful, such as the use of over the counter (OTC) pain medications to mask pain or use of unregulated and potentially dangerous dietary supplements. I demonstrate that non-elite runners rarely engage in training or participate in a race with the expectation or desire for a zero-sum victory. Rather, I argue that non-elite runners engage in running as part of healthicized body practice, through which each defines herself as a healthy, morally good neoliberal citizen. Performance enhancing substances (PES) are viewed as a way to circumvent the struggle, pain, need for intense dedication to improve one's performance--the experiences that non-elites runners feel they must experience in order to claim the identity of runner. Non-elite runners avoid intentionally using PES in favor of nutritional supplements, based on the incorrect belief that such products marketed specifically to improve health or performance are well regulated for safety and regarded as effective. Often these products are unregulated and of questionable quality and safety--many of the same reasons offered by non-elite runners for avoiding banned PES. Given the contradictions inherent in healthiest practices undertaken by runners, the study also addresses the underlying ethos of healthicism at work, which I argue are rooted in neoliberalism.

Included in

Sociology Commons

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