My research focuses on the oppression of fat people, especially at the hands of medicine and public health. In this research, I have two main objectives: one, to provide detailed descriptions and explanations of how fat oppression works, and two, to find ways to intervene in fat oppression through the practice of valuing fat people, fatness, and fat community.
My dissertation, Selling Stigma: Afflictive Power and The New Face of the War on Obesity, explores the puzzle of how concern for "weight stigma" became co-opted by anti-obesity researchers and advocacy organizations.
As part of this project, I am proposing a new concept to describe how anti-fatness works in the twenty-first century: the anti-obesity assemblage. The anti-obesity assemblage is a flexible, dynamic structure made of quantification and standards, human actors, non-human actors, intervention practices, and discourses. It both creates and attempts to solve the "problem" of "obesity." Any people, institutions, actions, policies, or discourses that legitimate “obesity” as a pathology, dehumanize fat people, and/or funnel fat people towards weight loss are contributing to the devaluation of fat people and the harm they face.
What makes weight stigma research and advocacy so pernicious – and therefore worthy of study – is that these efforts claim to be combatting the devaluation of fat people, yet they have not divested from the anti-obesity assemblage. Thus, this project is designed to illuminate the ways that weight stigma research and advocacy are intensifying anti-fatness, despite (or regardless of) their stated goals.
The rest of my dissertation consists of analyzing various parts of weight stigma research and advocacy and the ways they are enmeshed with anti-obesity efforts.
Chapter 2 explores the emergence of "weight stigma" as a topic of academic research and the ways it is operationalized in contemporary projects.
Chapter 3 examines weight stigma interventions performed with health professionals and published in academic journals, not to determine whether they have "worked" to reduce weight stigma, but to account for what kinds of experiences they are producing for the health professionals who participate in them.
Chapter 4 traces the media ecology and political economy of current weight stigma advocacy efforts, centering on Novo Nordisk's attempts to sell their weight loss pharmaceuticals through a redefinition of both obesity and weight stigma.
Chapter 5 is a speculative re-imagining of weight stigma research and advocacy via the question of what these efforts would look like if they recognized the anti-obesity assemblage as the source of fat oppression.