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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Governing risk, exercising caution : western medical knowledge, physical activity and pregnancy Jette, Shannon


In contemporary Western society, the messages regarding exercise during pregnancy are conflicting and confusing. Long-standing cautions about the dangers of over-exertion intermingle with entreaties to engage in moderate physical activity in order to have a healthier baby with a reduced risk of developing various chronic diseases. These medical messages then co-mingle with advice from family and friends as well as with images of the fit, pregnant 'yummy mummy' circulating in popular culture. The purpose of this dissertation is to trace history, untangle meanings and demonstrate shifting 'truth' claims about the active pregnant body, also considering how the various messages in circulation might be experienced as simultaneously empowering and oppressive by their intended audience, the pregnant woman. With these goals in mind, I draw upon the Foucauldian tools of archaeological and genealogical analysis to examine how knowledge regarding exercise during pregnancy has been produced over the past century, and how the messages put forth by the medical profession (and circulating within consumer culture) have functioned to regulate the activities of pregnant women. I also enlist the analytical tool of 'governmentality' (Foucault, 2003; O'Malley, 2008) to examine the place of exercise during pregnancy within the larger governmental apparatus of Western society over the past century. This approach provides a key insight as to why the ideas and messages about physical activity and pregnancy are so confusing: since the late nineteenth century, exercise during pregnancy has been framed as both a problem and a solution to the larger biopolitical aims of governance, aims which themselves have changed from a concern with the collective strength of the nation-state to a (neo-liberal) concern with the cost of unhealthy bodies. By situating maternal exercise within the larger governmental complex and closely examining the 'rules of formation' that allow particular statements (at certain times) to be accepted as 'truth' or 'knowledge' as well as showing how these 'truths' turn into a form of practicing power, my project illustrates the contingency of ideas regarding maternal exercise and troubles taken-for-granted ways of thinking about the active, pregnant body.

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