Balancing the self

Medicine, politics and the regulation of health in the twentieth century

Edited by Mark Jackson and Martin D. Moore

Balancing the self

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3213-0
  • Pages: 368
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £25.00
  • Published Date: March 2020
  • BIC Category: Humanities / Social & cultural history, Medicine / History of medicine, History, Modern History, History of Medicine, History of medicine, HISTORY / Social History, MEDICAL / History, Personal & Public Health, Medical Sociology
  • Series: Social Histories of Medicine


Many health, environmental, and social challenges across the globe - from diabetes to climate change - are regularly discussed in terms of imbalances in biological, ecological, and social systems. Yet, as contributions to this collection demonstrate, while the pressures of modernity have long been held to be pathogenic, strategies for addressing modern excesses and deficiencies of bodies and minds have frequently focused on the agency of the individual, self-knowledge, and individual choices. This volume explores how concepts of 'balance' have been central to modern politics, medicine, and society, analysing the diverse ways in which balanced and unbalanced selfhoods have been subject to construction, intervention, and challenge across the long twentieth century.

Through original chapters on subjects as varied as obesity control, fatigue and the regulation of work, and the physiology of exploration in extreme conditions, Balancing the self explores how the mechanisms and meanings of balance have been framed historically. Together, contributions examine the positive narratives that have been attached to the ideals and practices of 'self-help', the diverse agencies historically involved in cultivating new 'balanced' selves, and the extent to which rhetorics of empowerment and responsibility have been used for a variety of purposes, from disciplining bodies to cutting social security. With contributions from leading and emerging scholars such as Dorothy Porter, Alex Mold, Vanessa Heggie, Chris Millard, and Natasha Feiner, Balancing the self generates new insights into emerging fields of health governance, subjectivity, and balance.


Balancing The Self provides a detailed study of the abstract concept of 'balance' in individual health. Each chapter provides an interesting and well-researched case study into the changing understandings and approaches to balance. Furthermore, the volume itself is well-balanced, providing a mixture of medical and political history, with an even focus across the century. The strength of the individual chapters proves this work to be useful to any scholar with an interest in selfhood and twentieth-century Britain.
Louise Morgan, Social History of Medicine


Introduction: balancing the self in the twentieth century - Mark Jackson and Martin D. Moore

Part I: Configuring balance
2 Balance and the 'good' diabetic in Britain, c.1900-1960 - Martin D. Moore
3 From the alcoholic to the sensible drinker: alcohol health education campaigns in England - Alex Mold
4 `Look After Yourself': visualising obesity as a public health concern in 1970s and 1980s Britain - Jane Hand

Part II: Regulating imbalance
5 Self-help and self-promotion: dietary advice and agency in North America and Britain - Nicos Kefalas
6 Your life in your hands: teaching `relaxed living' in post-war Britain - Ayesha Nathoo
7 Pilot fatigue and the regulation of airline schedules in post-war Britain - Natasha Feiner

Part III: Reconfiguring balance
8 Extreme acts: narratives of balance and moderation at the limits of human performance - Vanessa Heggie
9 Self-help, marriage guidance and the making of the midlife crisis - Mark Jackson
10 Balancing contested meanings of creativity and pathology in Parkinson's Disease - Dorothy Porter

11 Conclusion: balance, malleability and anthropology: historical contexts - Chris Millard



Mark Jackson is Professor of the History of Medicine and Director of the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter

Martin D. Moore is a Research Fellow at the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health at the University of Exeter

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