This dissertation examines the emergence of women's physical culture (sports, fitness regimes, grooming, dieting) as a performance practice in the US Progressive Era and as the invisible biopolitical foundation of our modern habitus. In other words, biopolitics (the seemingly mundane ways in which we govern ourselves, and are governed by others through bodily conducts related to health) lies at the root of how we operate in our (post)modern world. I investigate three forgotten figures of physical culture - Harvard physical director Dudley Allen Sargent, Minneapolis Y.W.C.A. physical director Abby Mayhew, and magazine tycoon Bernarr Macfadden - revealing the problematic connections of the bodily conducts they espoused to eugenics and its promotion of white reproductivity. Their customized physical exercises shaped populations of women over time through discourses and performances of biological and social maternity that incited individuals to adopt certain physical conducts over others. These conducts achieved their racialized, gendered, and classed attributes through the performative work of surrogating and mobilizing the physical practices of marginalized populations, especially the rural lower classes and distant and/or disappearing "primitives." Ultimately, the private acts of self-management (sit-ups, fasting, cold baths, etc.) they promoted through handbooks, anthropometry, exhibitions and demonstrations, and other forms of visual culture (including photography, popular magazines, and film), facilitated the categorization and organization of subjectivities by race, class, and gender within the socio-economic sphere. In examining these written and visual texts, this study insists on a closer scrutiny of the "culture" of physical culture, which in its various forms (physical, intellectual, moral self-cultivation) operated as a mode of biopolitics enabling liberal governmentality (the management of populations through cultivating particular forms of subjectivity and productivity in individuals) to function. In approaching liberal governmentality as a performance I demonstrate how individual acts of self-cultivation travelled from one body to the next through witness and repetition, eventually spreading to the entire population. Hence, I forward physical culture as a crucial site of analysis for performance scholars interested in how corporeality is marshaled by and able to contest local and global systems of governance.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2011. Major:Theatre Arts. Advisor: Dr. Margaret Werry. 1 computer file (PDF); viii, 291 pages
Walsh, Shannon Leigh.
Muscular maternity: progressive era physical culture, biopolitics, and performance..
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