‘Frequent Sipping’: Bottled Water, the Will to Health and the Subject of Hydration

Body and Society 18 (3-4):72-98 (2012)
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Abstract

This article examines how the formation of markets in bottled water has relied on assembling a particular subject: the subject of hydration. The discourse of hydration is a conspicuous feature of efforts to market bottled water, allowing companies to appeal to scientifically framed principles and ideas of health in order to position the product as an essential component in self-health and healthy lifestyles. Alongside related principles, such as the ‘8 × 8 rule’, hydration has done much to establish new practices of water drinking and consumption in which the consumer appears to be always at risk of dehydration and must engage in practices of ‘frequent sipping’. This article traces the emergence of the concept of hydration from its origins in exercise science and explores its circulation, contemporary uses and purchase. I argue that the appeal to biomedical languages and concepts found in the discourse of hydration connects with much broader ways of conceiving and acting upon the self that have become prevalent in contemporary society – what Rose and Novas call ‘biological citizenship’ – indicating how the ensemble of hydration participates in wider-ranging transformations in forms of rule. The story of hydration reveals how biomedical techniques of the self can be made to double up as ‘market devices’ by offering specific procedures for assessing the self and calculating the body’s needs. In order to grasp these developments, I position the health sciences, and health and fitness in particular, as a potent site of popular culture in which bodies learn to be affected by the procedures of scientific experiment. A critical grasp of this context is best enabled, I argue, by situating the producers and consumers of scientific principles and commercial products as embodied and looking at their interconnection in processes of emergence. Through these means, we can begin to develop a fully materialized account of the question: how have we become so thirsty?

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