While the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program in which low-income men constructed trails and lodges in parks, built public roads, and otherwise improved the American environment, lasted just under a decade, it has remained an incredibly popular agency in American consciousness. Organizations push its memory, the National Park Service celebrates its past, and Americans write a surprising number of editorials about how we should revive the program. This is an unusual amount of love for a social welfare program, most of which are loathed and stigmatized in the U.S. Why are so many welfare programs villainized, even when they include a work component, while the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) invokes such pride and nostalgia? There are several reasons…

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In recent years, the concept “neoliberalism” has emerged to represent everything that is bad, or at least nothing good. Some have questioned whether the concept is so overused to the point of being meaningless. In public health, there has been an explosion of neoliberal analyses. In an editorial for Critical Public Health, Kirsten Bell and Judith Green lament the ”reductive ways neoliberalism often tends to be used.” One such reduction is the characterization of the beneficent welfare state as under-attack from maleficent neoliberalism. This characterization is not only simplistic, but it misunderstands the effects of neoliberalism on the provision of welfare. I suggest that the proliferation of “lifestyle” practices and policies can better help us understand the relationship between neoliberalism…

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In 1899, in one of the most influential speeches of his career, Theodore Roosevelt called on his fellow citizens to live a “strenuous life.” Roosevelt praised a life of restless movement, always active, always seeking to improve one’s strength and the strength of the nation, always trying to get ahead and to succeed in an endless struggle for survival. In the wake of Darwin and in the age of Social Darwinism, competition, personal responsibility, and constant improvement had become natural laws, considered as governing any interaction between individuals, groups, and nations. Roosevelt preached the gospel of fitness, and its message and tone sound familiar to us, even if we have never heard of his “strenuous life”-speech before. In this blog…

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Hunger strikes are a political device. Since the early 20th century, they have frequently provoked debate on the individual’s right to self-determination and the limits of the state’s duty to protect the well-being of its citizens and ensure their survival. When we read present day news reports on hunger strikes, the suffering body is in the focus of camera lenses and at the center of our imaginations. Unsurprisingly, questions on normative body ideals, fitness, and food seem to be rather absent. But in the Progressive Era (~ 1890s-1920s), they arguably played a vital, maybe even a formative role in establishing hunger strikes as a form of protest. Back then, British and American activists for women’s suffrage not only drew public…

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