Rhetorics of health citizenship: exploring vernacular critiques of government's role in supporting healthy living

Philippa Spoel, Roma Harris, Flis Henwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores how older adults negotiate and partially counter normative expectations of "health citizenship" that stress individual responsibility for maintaining health and preventing health problems. Based on interviews with 55 participants in Canada and the U.K. about what healthy living means to them in their everyday lives, we examine how the dominant discourse of personal responsibility in participants' responses is counterpointed by a more muted, yet significant, alternative critical perspective on the relative roles and responsibilities of government and citizens in making healthy living possible. Drawing on Hauser's (1999) concept of vernacular rhetoric along with recent theories of environmental citizenship, we analyze how participants exercise their civic-political judgment by using a logic of dissociation to argue that what government says about the importance of healthy living is incompatible with what government does to support citizens' abilities to eat healthily and live actively. By deploying this technique of argumentation to address structural-political-economic dimensions of healthy living, participants enact, in modest ways, an alternative, critical-collective mode of health citizenship that complicates and, at least partially, disrupts neoliberal constructions of the individually responsible, "good" health citizen.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-147
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Medical Humanities
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2014


  • Health citizenship
  • Public health
  • Vernacular rhetoric
  • Practical reasoning


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