Research Prizes

Else Vogel
PhD dissertation:
Subjects of care: Living with overweight in the Netherlands.

Supervisor: Prof. dr. A. Mol
Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. A.J. Pols
Nomination: University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Report of the selection committee
‘Subjects of care’ combines philosophical reflection with ethnographic research into care for overweight people in a unique way. The researcher joined dieticians, psychologists and surgeons, and carefully studied people who undergo treatment in clinics, sports schools and mindfulness training.

In this way Else Vogel sought alternatives to the standard approach that sees overweight as the result of too much food and too little exercise. Her analysis makes it plausible that this standard approach has political implications too. The mechanistic view of overweight as a purely physical problem leads to forms of care aimed at responsibility and self-control.

This research charts alternative approaches that focus on the broader context in which overweight is experienced as a problem, and the way in which people approach life. The perspective outlined is therefore applicable not only to the issue of obesity, but also to other efforts at so-called ‘human or citizen improvement’.

In ‘Subjects of Care’ the jury recognizes the hand of an independent researcher who conducts fieldwork, argues her case and adopts a position. Moreover, the author does not shy away from her own role as researcher, an aspect appreciated by the jury.

In 2016, Else Vogel defended her PhD dissertation Subjects of Care: Living with overweight in the Netherlands cum laude at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). For this research she conducted ethnographic fieldwork in practices through which practitioners and people care for bodily weight. They do this by means as diverse as dietary recommendations, exercise regimes, meditation, tasting, diet shakes and surgery. Since overweight is a major public health concern, individuals are often admonished to take control of their weight. But such calls are notoriously unsuccessful. In her research, Else Vogel articulates alternatives to the ideal of bodily discipline. She shows how various ‘forms of care’ enact bodily desires, health and subjectivity in different ways. Previously, Else Vogel studied psychology and philosophy at Groningen University and received a master’s degree in psychology (cum laude). She also graduated from the research master Social Sciences at the UvA (cum laude). After her PhD she did research at the UvA on obesity prevention in Amsterdam neighbourhoods. Currently she is working as a postdoc at the University of Linköping, Sweden. Here she is conducting research on how rehabilitation clinics teach people suffering from persistent pain and fatigue to live well with their restrictions.