Accepted paper:

Shame and moral work around health: examining the experience of young people


Louise Laverty (University of Liverpool)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will discuss the moralities of health in the lives of young people. Data from an ethnographic study of a youth club in the north west of England will be used to illustrate the significance of shame to young people’s experiences of health and belonging.

Paper long abstract:

Public health campaigns often attempt to appeal to the public through emotive and often moralising messages; utilising fear, disgust, guilt and shame. This reflects a wider shift to what Deborah Lupton has described as the 'moral imperative of health', where the role of health becomes a measure of character and self-worth (1995). Hence to be in poor health, or avoid making healthy choices, is to be of objectionable character (Crawford 1994). This paper draws on a year-long ethnographic study of young people at a youth club in the North West of England. It aims to demonstrate that moralities of health seep into everyday life, and have implications for the inclusion and exclusion of young people who do not conform to the moral norms of the centre and local community. Using Elspeth Probyn's work on shame as an analytic concept I will discuss the significance of shame during my fieldwork. The fear of being shamed, the proactive shaming of others, and being the subject of shaming are prominent in young people's identity work in this public setting. These issues will be discussed within the broader framework of youth and belonging, paying particular attention to the gendered nature of these interactions. The findings will be placed in context by using the backdrop of the increasing prominence of 'shame debates' in UK contexts (for example fat-shaming, slut-shaming, welfare-shaming debates).

panel P66
Community, belonging and moral sentiment: is to belong to be a moral person?