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Public confessions of a sinner: a healthy take on obesity?
  1. Susanne Scholz
  1. Correspondence to Professor Dr Susanne Scholz, Institut für England- und Amerikastudien, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Grueneburgplatz 1, D-60629 Frankfurt am Main, Germany; s.scholz{at}em.uni-frankfurt.de

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In his 1963 study The birth of the clinic,1 French philosopher Michel Foucault points out how an empirical gaze and rational language work hand in hand in producing the diagnostic unit of “the case”. In a time that increasingly regarded the individual human as part of a population that the society has a duty to keep healthy, case studies helped to establish normative guidelines for patients on how to treat their bodies and care for themselves. While The birth of the clinic only describes the emergence of a modern medical perception of the diseased human body, in his later works Foucault extends the notion of the authorities’ disciplinary gaze and the individual’s self-monitoring into a notion of biopolitics. In his History of sexuality,2 he describes the practice of confession as one of the basic mechanisms by which individuals come to understand themselves as social agents with a responsibility for their own welfare. Taking over from the religious register, the modern confessional establishes a moral discourse that induces subjects to subscribe to certain normative ideals and to monitor their own performance. Since this form of self-government is inscribed into the bodies of individuals, it has been called biopower, a concerted effort of both society and the individual to regulate one’s bios or life by subscribing, …

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