Emotional Athletes, Brainy Workers and other Hot New Developments: Multiple (re)problematizations of Heat Stress as an object of governance in northern Australia

Elspeth Oppermann, Michaela Spencer, Matt Brearley

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This paper presents an effort to think about ‘heat stress’ as multiple objects of governance. In seeking to analyse this ‘object’ we draw on Foucault’s account of ‘problematization’ (1985, 2009). Accordingly, heat stress is not understood as a mere description of an aspect of reality, but instead emerges as an object of knowledge from particular practices in particular times and places which draw together certain elements (Laclau & Mouffe, 2001; Oppermann, 2013) such as concepts, measures and rules: Problematization doesn’t mean the representation of a pre-existent object, nor the creation through discourse of an object that doesn’t exist. It denotes the set of discursive or non-discursive practices that makes something enter the play of the true and false and constitutes it as an object for thought. (Foucault, as cited in Flynn, 2005, pp.26-7). Problematized in a particular way, the object becomes ‘governable’. In analysing problematizations as producing a particular objects of governance, we consider four analytical questions: what is made visible, how is it known, how is it intervened in, and what subject(ivities) are produced (Dean, 2010)? That is, why are certain elements considered to be significant and problematic, how are these things understood and communicated, and what techniques and practices seek to manage these things to produce an idealised outcome, population or subjectivity? Because problematizations thus produce the social world as well as ‘represent’ it, problematizations are inherently political. To trace the problematization heat stress as an object of knowledge and governance, we present extracts from a conversation between the authors, which explored the investigations and interventions of Dr Matt Brearley, an exercise scientist addressing heat stress. Re-telling some of Matt’s experiences in trying to ‘understand’ heat stress brings into focus the contingency through which problematizations emerge. These stories also highlight how objects of governance are not necessarily singular, but can change over time and can be multiple (Mol, 2002). We notice in our conversation the ruptures of a singular heat stress that prompt its emergence as multiple objects, and the work that Matt finds himself doing to (re) problematize heat stress as a local object of knowledge and governance in different places and times. Having journeyed through these multiple objects produced by different problematizations of ‘heat stress’, we then raise questions about how these objects of governance may come to relate as they participate in an emerging northern Australian governmentality centred on labour-intensive development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-39
Number of pages8
JournalLearning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social contexts
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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