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How various ‘cultures of fitness’ shape subjective experiences of growing older


Is growing older a process of decline or of keeping active? Foucauldian theory suggests particular regimes of fitness will discipline ageing bodies in distinctively different ways. This paper reports a comparative ethnographic and qualitative interview study of a ‘fitness exercise’ and a ‘dance exercise’ group for the over-fifties. The findings demonstrate the ways in which contradictory cultural discourses in the fitness training curricula are associated with different subjective experiences of physical and psychological ageing. The ‘fitness exercise’ group focused on individual fitness levels for the ageing body in the terms of the cultural discourses of health and physiology. The ‘dance exercise’ group focused on the graceful ageing body in the terms of the cultural discourses of the psycho-social benefits of movement in relation to others. The study combined phenomenological and social constructionist dimensions, and exemplifies the ways in which the subjective experience of the ageing body may become embedded in particular cultures of fitness.

Corresponding author
Susan Paulson, c/o Professor David Marks, Department of Psychology, City University, St. John's Street, London EC1V 0HB. e-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
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