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Foucault Retires to the Gym: Understanding Embodied Aging in the Third Age

  • Kristi A. Allain (a1) and Barbara Marshall (a2)


In light of recent social pressures leading to a reimagining of the “Third Age” as a time of constant activity rather than repose and relaxation, this article explores the pressure on individuals to age “successfully” by engaging in physical activity in later life. Through semi-structured interviews with 15 retired or semi-retired gym-goers (eight women and seven men), the article examines how this call to increased activity impacts the ways active mid-life and older adults understand themselves and others. Drawing on Foucault’s understandings of the productive nature of power, we argue that those who perceive themselves as successfully heeding the call to active aging position themselves in contrast to inactive peers. Within a neoliberal framework, these participants self-identify as morally responsible citizens who, as a result of engagement in fitness activities, are authorized to survey and discipline the bodies of those “others” who will not or cannot engage in regular exercise.

Des pressions sociales récentes ont amené une nouvelle conception du « troisième âge », qui est maintenant vu comme une période d’activité constante, et non de repos ou de relaxation. Cet article explore les pressions exercées sur les individus, qui sont poussés vers le vieillissement « réussi » à travers la pratique d’activités physiques, malgré leur avancée en âge. Il examine, par l’intermédiaire d’entretiens semi-directifs avec 15 personnes à la retraite ou en préretraite fréquentant les gyms (8 femmes, 7 hommes), comment cet appel à une activité accrue influence la perception que des adultes d’âge moyen et avancé ont d’eux-mêmes et des autres. En prenant appui sur la nature productive du pouvoir, tel que conçu par Foucault, cet article fait valoir que les individus qui se perçoivent comme des adeptes du vieillissement actif et réussi se considèrent en opposition à leurs pairs inactifs. Dans un cadre néolibéral, ces participants se définissent comme des citoyens moralement responsables qui, par leur engagement dans des activités de mise en forme physique, sont autorisés à juger et à discipliner les corps de ces « autres » qui ne peuvent pratiquer ou qui ne pratiqueront pas une activité physique régulière.

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Corresponding author

*Correspondence and requests for reprints should be sent to / La correspondance et les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adresées à : Kristi Allain, Ph.D. St. Thomas University – Sociology Department 51 Dineen Dr. Fredericton, NB E3B 5G3 <>


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Foucault Retires to the Gym: Understanding Embodied Aging in the Third Age

  • Kristi A. Allain (a1) and Barbara Marshall (a2)


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