Mark Jackson

This chapter investigates how the conjunction of socio-economic, cultural and political contexts made the midlife crisis – as both concept and experience – possible. By juxtaposing advice literature on healthy ageing in America, the work of marriage guidance counsellors in Britain, as well as cinematic and literary representations of the ‘emotional typhoon’ experienced during midlife transitions, it argues that the popularity of the term ‘midlife crisis’ lay in its resonance with growing concerns about the collapse of the American dream and post-Second World War anxieties about threats to the stability of the nuclear family. In both cases, notions of emotional balance were reconfigured by obsessions with the autonomous individual and the gospel of consumption. The belief that life could begin again at 40 was used to restabilise a seemingly unbalanced Western capitalist economy that could only be sustained by prolonging productivity and encouraging spending across the whole life course.

in Balancing the self
Open Access (free)
Medicine, politics and the regulation of health in the twentieth century

Concepts of ‘balance’ have been central to modern politics, medicine and society. Yet, while many health, environmental and social challenges are discussed globally in terms of imbalances in biological, social and ecological systems, strategies for addressing modern excesses and deficiencies have focused almost exclusively on the agency of the individual. Balancing the Self explores the diverse ways in which balanced and unbalanced selfhoods have been subject to construction, intervention and challenge across the long twentieth century. Through original chapters on subjects as varied as obesity control, fatigue and the regulation of work, and the physiology of exploration in extreme conditions, the volume analyses how concepts of balance and rhetorics of empowerment and responsibility have historically been used for a variety of purposes, by a diversity of political and social agencies. Historicising present-day concerns, as well as uncovering the previously hidden interests of the past, this volume’s wide-ranging discussions of health governance, subjectivity and balance will be of interest to historians of medicine, sociologists, social policy analysts, and social and political historians alike.

Open Access (free)
Balancing the self in the twentieth century
Mark Jackson and Martin D. Moore

This chapter introduces the volume’s major arguments and themes. It provides a critical account of prominent theorisations of balance and selfhood, and surveys and frames each contribution to the volume. In doing so, the chapter outlines what has been at stake in projects for achieving balanced selves in the twentieth century. It not only makes plain how historical investigations into balanced selfhood complicate assumptions about the links between individualised balance and forms of production or political regimes, but also highlights the malleability and multi-valence of balance as a concept. It argues, therefore, that the volume not only contributes to the cultural history of an everyday concept, but also generates insights into the history of health governance and subjectivity, and into the close connections between medicine, politics and the regulation of social life.

in Balancing the self