Multimodal strategies of emotional governance: a critical analysis of 'nudge' tactics in health policy

Jane Mulderrig
2017 Critical Discourse Studies  
In the second half of the 20 th century a new alliance was formed between political aspirations for a healthy population and personal aspirations to be well: health was to be ensured by instrumentalising anxiety and shaping the hopes and fears of individuals and families for their own biological destiny.' (Rose, 2001: 17) 'We should design policies that help the least sophisticated people in society while imposing the smallest possible costs on the most sophisticated ' (Thaler and Sunstein,
more » ... : 252) contemporary relevance of Foucault's analytics of power as way of understanding the development of advanced liberalism in general (Lemke, 2000 (Lemke, , 2010 and public health in particular (Ayo 2012; Lawless, Coveney, and MacDougal 2014) . However, as Gagnon et al argue (2010, p. 251), understanding how this type of non-coercive power is instantiated in specific contexts also requires detailed (textual) analysis 'of the technical means (technologies) by which the conducts of individuals are regulated'. In this paper I therefore draw on the Foucauldian concepts of governmentality and biopolitics to conceptualise how this campaignand more generally nudge -attempts to manage (one area of) public health by enlisting individuals in practices of self-regulation, while leaving unchallenged material and cultural inequalities. Employing multimodal critical discourse analysis (Machin and Mayr 2012; Machin and Mayr 2013) I analyse twenty six TV adverts broadcast since 2009 and identify three intersecting multimodal techniques: (1) the representation of (northern, working class) lifestyles as delinquent (2) a discourse of risk and threat mobilised through emotional manipulation and (3) a discourse of 'smarter' consumerism. I begin by outlining the broader political economic context in which neoliberal principles and the politics of risk and futurity help shape the agenda for public policy. Drawing on the concept of 'governmentality', I assess what kinds of roles, relations and responsibilities for citizens and state this implies. Applying these insights to the question of public health, I review the health promotion literature and discuss the links between prominent communication strategies and the (biopolitical) regulation of everyday lives. Turning to the case study examined in this paper, the C4L campaign, I begin by tracing its political origins to the increasing influence among policy makers of behavioural economics or 'nudge'. I critically examine some of the core theoretical assumptions behind nudge and argue that it constitutes a technique of governmentality which is compatible with neoliberal values. I then turn to the C4L campaign materials, focussing on a corpus of 26 TV adverts 1 and the C4L brand to demonstrate how this works in practice. Governmentality, neoliberalism and the politics of risk Governmentality is a theory of how expertise-led control over individual behaviour emerged as a technique of political rule. It encompasses the array of institutions, relations and practices through which the social and economic wellbeing of a territory and its population are managed. Its enactment varies historically, for example in the early C20 th it operated
doi:10.1080/17405904.2017.1382381 fatcat:rweoqr7bbva3rmpcego3nr4xfa