The Power of The Fart: Medicalization, normativity, and consuming body-subjects

Jack S. Tillotson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The purpose of this study is to understand the embodied experience of lactose intolerance. More specifically, how consumers cope with the abnormal functioning of the body, intermittent and involuntary episodes of bodily discharges (farts, belches, loose stools) and associated distress, along with the subsequent discourses of health it implies. Most extant research focusing on why health-conscious consumers turn to self-care is of limited value to understanding embodied experience because it isolates the body as the object from its subject, the mind, the 'conscious' consumer. Somewhat more relevant to my bodily-level focus are studies on consumer health that address the power dynamics of medical intervention. These accounts render consumer bodies as objects of discursive inscription, taking little account of the body as a physical subject, a medium that is oriented to the world outside itself in constant engagement so as to maintain order and normativity in life. I argue that impaired bodily experiences reach intelligibility through discursive activity that I refer to as normalization work, that is, self-disciplinary talk mediated by the body-subject. Normalization work offers an alternative approach and analysis of consumer talk that is oriented by embodied concerns and responsive to situated normativity. I understand talk as discursive activity that shows language in use, an embodied action, that is reflective of how the authoring body-subject finds herself in the world. My approach builds towards a theorization of embodied consumer talk conceptualized as an experience-near realm of possibilities and constraints on discursive action mediated by the orienting forces of bodily experience. The significance of such an approach sits in recognizing bodily subjectivity, the fundamental ground of human experience, from the outset and avoids distancing the body from abstract discursive (or cultural) systems. I find that coping with an illness does not unfold only at the bodily level (i.e., the object level). Though at first glance, it is the body that is disrupted by lactose intolerance, it gains its fullest meaning when related to broader contexts of significance whether that be social situations, healthcare settings, marketplace interactions, or even self-understandings. That is to say, it is not so much the bouts of bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, and discomfort that become the object which consumers cope with but rather the immediate practical and material situation to which the impaired body belongs.
Translated title of the contributionThe Power of The Fart: Medicalization, normativity, and consuming body-subjects
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Toyoki, Sammy, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-8602-6
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-8603-3
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • embodiment
  • medicalization
  • normalization
  • food consumption
  • functional foods


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