A post-structuralist inquiry into health and health discourse in the lives of young men aged 11 to 19 in the UK

Mills, Danielle (2020) A post-structuralist inquiry into health and health discourse in the lives of young men aged 11 to 19 in the UK. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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There is increasing attention on young people’s health amidst concerns about their health related behaviours including diet, substance use, and exercise. Little is known about how young people respond to this increased attention, with young men being particularly absent in this area of research.

Aims and objectives

This research aimed to better understand young men’s perspectives on health and health information, and to explore how this may differ depending on context. The study also examined what influences young men’s perspectives on health. The ways in which young men make sense of, and respond to, the health information and knowledge that they are subject to is also considered.


This post-structuralist case study utilised focused ethnography to examine the ways in which young men constructed ideas about health and a healthy body. Ethnographies are effective for identifying dominant socio-cultural discourses. Interaction in the everyday lives of participants can lead to a better understanding of their beliefs, motivations, and behaviours. A post-structural ethnography involves acknowledging and addressing the power relations within the research dynamic, including those involving the researcher.

Research took place in two contrasting locations for eight weeks between January and May 2014. Using two locations for data collection has highlighted how such responses can differ depending on context. Data collection took the form of observation and documentary data, as well as individual and group interviews with fourteen young men aged between twelve and eighteen. Data was analysed through thematic and discourse analysis.


The study explored the topics the young men in each site raised in relation to health, and how they conceptualised different approaches to ‘being healthy’.

The key themes that were identified as being important to health were: the privileging of mental health over physical health, particularly in relation to the importance of happiness; belonging within family and friend groups and the behaviour that might facilitate this; and how they coped with life through means of the emotional support they needed and could access through professional services, family, friends and use of smoking, alcohol, and substances.

There was a lack of trust in ‘official’ health information, underpinned by the belief that official information needed to be assessed in relation to their own lives and their peers. The young men often responded to health information by neutralising the dominant discourse, thus repurposing ‘official’ messages to meet personal needs. The young men also privileged information taken from personal experience over other health information that they perceived to be biased.

Context was observed to be a key factor in how the young men in this study understood and embodied health. Their ability to critically consider health information appeared influenced by the discourses available to them. The similarities in how the young men made sense of the health-related information available to them appear to be more marked than the differences.


The research undertaken in these two sites reveals both similarities and differences in the influence of a variety of factors on understandings of health. There is a high degree of complexity when attempting to understand performances of young masculinities in relation to health.

This research builds on the findings of previous research in order to propose a model that represents factors forming and contributing to the health of adolescent boys. This model goes further than previous models in considering the role of context, socioeconomic status, education, and access to capital, discourse, and masculinities. The co-creation of conceptualisations of health is also considered with communities of practice being active in specific contexts, with the agency to contest, resist, assimilate, and repurpose knowledge in order to mitigate risk.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Lymn, Joanne
East, Linda
Keywords: Health information; Young men; Health behaviours; Adolescent boys
Subjects: W Medicine and related subjects (NLM Classification) > WA Public health
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Health Sciences
Item ID: 60460
Depositing User: Mills, Danielle
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2023 12:25
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2023 12:25
URI: https://eprints.nottingham.ac.uk/id/eprint/60460

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