Date of Degree

9-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Anthropology

Advisor

Katherine Verdery

Committee Members

Gerald Creed

Murphy Halliburton

Elena Gapova

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Keywords

fitness, health, the body, consumer culture, neoliberalism, post-socialism

Abstract

This dissertation examines women’s fitness culture in Minsk, Belarus. While fitness is a global phenomenon, it has received very little attention within anthropology. I argue that this seemingly unpolitical subject plays an important role in shaping subjectivities and social relations in post-Soviet Belarus. Belarus, which is located on the fault line between Russia and the EU, has so far not transitioned to anything resembling either capitalism or democracy. While the possibility for political change has seemed nearly unimaginable under President Alexander Lukashenko’s long tenure, the recent penetration of global consumer culture—in particular, the proliferation of fitness clubs and a new obsession with health and wellness—has nonetheless helped to shape a different type of citizen-subject. Based on 17 months of fieldwork conducted between 2016-2018, this research explores the ways that fitness targets not only people’s bodies, but also their inner lives and aspirations. I argue that fitness culture promotes a set of orientations associated with neoliberal economic regimes: constant investment in the self, flexibility, self-reliance, and relentless positivity. Each chapter of this dissertation demonstrates that fitness—its practices, discourses, and spaces—helps to reorient local understandings of health, physical activity, leisure, the gendered body, and even public etiquette. Exploring the values carried by fitness culture and their impact on a “still-socialist” place, this dissertation outlines a new research agenda for a politically engaged anthropology of fitness.

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