This thesis explores the phenomenon of corporations funding, devising and implementing healthy lifestyles education programmes in primary schools as ‘part of the solution’ to childhood obesity. Based on a critical ethnography of three primary schools in Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand, this thesis illuminates how an array of organisations and actors, including multinational corporations, government agencies, charities and schools, are assembled together through their combined ‘will to improve’ children’s (un)healthy bodies, thoughts and behaviours. This study explores how children, teachers, principals and external providers understand and experience these outsourced programmes and resources. It also discusses how the attempts to ‘teach’ children about health shapes children’s understanding of health, fatness, teachers, corporations and ‘healthy’ consumption of corporate products.
This thesis is a study of governmentality, where I examine the rationalities, technologies and subjects of government, not only the ‘official’ plans to govern, but how they are actually enacted in schools and how they are experienced. My evidence is gathered from a range of sources: observations within and outside of the classrooms; my own journal entries; research conversations with children, teachers, principals and external providers; building relationships with participants; and documentary evidence, such as annual reports, organisation websites, resources, media releases, and children’s school work. I employ the notion of assemblage as a key analytical framework to examine evidence and demonstrate how healthy lifestyles education programmes endeavour to govern schools, teachers and children towards certain ends.
My analysis of the corporatised healthy lifestyles education programmes reveals that the assemblage is messy and complex. It is constituted by an ensemble of elements that converge together to provide simple solutions to the ‘problem’ of children’s (fat) bodies and (un)healthy lifestyles. A number of these elements, such as the neoliberal political rationality, dominant discourses of health, fatness, individual choice and responsibility, multinational food corporations and regional charities, pedagogies of disgust, fear and silence, and technologies of consumption, outsourcing, privatisation, and corporatisation, have been identified and critiqued in governmentality studies of public health and public education. However, what my research reveals is some of the ways that disparate elements are brought together and made to adhere. This includes practices of assemblage, such as anti-politics, re-assembling, rendering technical, forging alignments, resolving tensions, and managing contradictions.
Throughout the thesis I argue that analysing these practices of assemblage is integral to understanding how corporations and their ‘not-for-profit’ partners endeavour to govern children to become certain kinds of ‘healthy’ consumers. This is not to say the authorities were always successful. The students were often willing and able to contest and critique the corporate attempts to commercialise their educational space. However, I argue that healthy lifestyles education programmes act as a form of mis-education, one that constrains and constricts how teachers teach and what students learn about health, corporations and consumption. Finally, this thesis explores the possibilities for teachers and children to work together to employ counter-politics that ‘unsettle’ the assemblage.