UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Towards a relational health promotion Veenstra, Gerry; Burnett, Patrick John


The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion (1986) exhibits a substantialist approach to the agency-structure dichotomy. From a substantialist point of view, individual agency and social structure come preformed and subsequently relate to and influence one another, starkly positioning the choices made by individuals against the structured sets of opportunities and constraints in reference to which choices are made. From a relational perspective, however, relations between elements, not the elements themselves, are the primary ontological focus. We advocate for a relational approach to the structure-agency dichotomy, one that locates both agency and structure in social relations thereby dissolving the stark distinction between them, suggesting that relational theories can provide useful insights into how and why people ‘choose’ to engage in health-related behaviours. Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice, predicated upon the notions of field, capital and habitus, is exemplary in this regard.

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