Parkrun, health and the enactment of body projects

Gareth Wiltshire, Clare Stevinson, Simone Fullagar

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter in a published conference proceeding


Background: The inactive, unfit and overweight body is commonly positioned as an object of individual intervention to reduce the risk of ‘lifestyle’ disease within advanced liberalism. The individualising of responsibility for health risk intersects with contemporary discourses of self-management that are enacted through a variety of body projects. In seeking to advance the sociological analysis of embodied practices this study offers the first detailed analysis of the rise of parkrun as a rapidly growing free community running event. Created by citizens rather than health professionals, parkrun offers a unique physical cultural practice through which to examine how active body projects are constituted in relation to discourses of healthy living. Methods: A geographically diverse sample of participants (N=20) took part in one-off telephone interviews. Interview transcripts were analysed systematically attending to the phenomenological and discursive dimensions through which embodied meaning is constituted. We identify three discursive formations through this analysis of running practices; (1) troubled bodies (2) enhancing bodies, and (3) healthy/unhealthy bodies. Discussion: This paper offers some theoretical and empirical insights into the embodied practice of running. We claim that parkrunners in this study draw on discursive resources around lifestyle health and individual responsibility to frame their experience in line with particular body projects. Parkrun events, therefore, provide a space to enact the different body projects that consider perceive as important in the achievement of health. We suggest that these projects are powerful because of the embodied nature of their experience and the pervasiveness of health discourse. Implications of this research are discussed in relation to physical activity promotion and policy. Conclusion: Parkrun is a new space for the enactment of body projects constructed through prominent discourses around health. Engagement in the events is experienced positively as a means to control and manage personal health status.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEuropean Society for Health and Medical Sociology, 2016
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2016
EventEuropean Society for Health and Medical Sociology - Geneva
Duration: 20 Jun 201622 Jun 2016


ConferenceEuropean Society for Health and Medical Sociology
Abbreviated titleESHMS


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