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Modeling, Negotiating, Fixing: Discourses of Health among Working Families in Los Angeles

Carolina Izquierdo


Amy Paugh

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 9


This paper examines the disjunctures between health ideologies and health practices among dual-earner middle-class working families in Los Angeles. It takes an innovative approach to health, synthesizing the theoretical and methodological tools of medical and linguistic anthropology to explore and compare the construction of health in semi-structured interviews and in video-recorded spontaneous social interaction at home. In interviews, working adults employ metaphors of “fixing” their health and “modeling” good health for their children; yet, observation of their daily activities illustrates the difficulties they face and compromises they make as they enact health in everyday life. The paper finds that maintaining family health is a complex process of negotiation between individual desires and overarching goals and ideals for the family. This process is affected and constrained by the demands of work, school, and other activities, as well as by pervasive influences from the media. Furthermore, this process is fraught with complex and often gendered notions of causality, morality, and responsibility, particularly when family goals and ideals do not match practice. The analysis illustrates that in order to understand the organization and meanings of this morally-laden dimension of working family life, it is critical to examine both the ways in which people talk about health and the ways in which they “do” health in their daily lives.

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