The Age of FitnessHow the Body Came to Symbolize Success and Achievement
The Age of Fitness
How the Body Came to Symbolize Success and Achievement
Translated by Alex Skinner

We live in the age of fitness. Hundreds of thousands of people run marathons and millions go jogging in local parks, work out in gyms, cycle, swim, or practice yoga. The vast majority are not engaged in competitive sport and are not trying to win any medals. They just want to get fit. Why this modern preoccupation with fitness?

In this new book, Jürgen Martschukat traces the roots of our modern preoccupation with fitness back to the birth of modern societies in the eighteenth century, showing how the idea of fitness was interwoven with modernity’s emphasis on perpetual optimization and renewal. But it is only in the period since the 1970s, he argues, that the age of fitness truly emerged, as part and parcel of our contemporary neoliberal era. Neoliberalism enjoins individuals to work on themselves, to cultivate themselves in body and mind.  Fitness becomes a guiding principle of social life, an era-defining network of discourses and practices that shape individuals’ actions and self-conceptions. The pursuit of fitness becomes a cultural repertoire that is deeply ingrained in our institutions and way of life.

This wide-ranging book shows how deeply fitness is inscribed in modern societies, and how important fitness has become to success or failure, recognition or exclusion, in a society that sets great store by self-responsibility, performance, market, and competition.  It will be of great value not only to those interested in sport and fitness, but also to anyone concerned with the conditions of success and failure in our societies today.

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  • March 2021
  • 220 pages
  • 160 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $25.00
  • 9781509545636
  • Open eBook $20.00
  • 9781509545650
Table of Contents
Table of contents:


Introduction: The Age of Fitness

1. “Fit or Fat”? Fitness in Recent History and the Present Day

2. Fitness. Trajectories of a Concept since the Eighteenth Century

3. Working

4. Having Sex

5. Fighting

6. Productive, Potent, and Ready to Fight?



About the Author
Jürgen Martschukat is Professor of North American History at the University of Erfurt.
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The Guardian

New Statesman

“Jürgen Martschukat uncovers fitness as a regulating force deeply inscribed in liberal societies; it is a state of productivity, social responsibility, and self-worth for which individuals relentlessly strive. An absorbing account of ‘proactive relationships’ with our bodies, The Age of Fitness is also a benchmark history of biopolitics.”
Douglas Booth, Thompson Rivers University

“This extremely clear and well-argued book is indispensable for those who wish to reflect upon the social and political conditions by which we have become concerned with our ‘fitness’ and the historical development of such an endeavor within a comparative North American and European context. Of particular note is the relation it establishes between the work we undertake on ourselves, our bodies, our vitality, and our potency, and the neoliberal models of society that emphasize individualized performance and competition.”
Mitchell Dean, Copenhagen Business School

“Bodies, and ideas about bodies, have a powerful history. Martschukat’s The Age of Fitness tracks the current preoccupation with ‘being fit’ across over 200 years and multiple sites within the West. Propelled to consume, yet also to maintain an ideally svelte frame, we are caught within a deeply ambivalent regime. Martschukat’s lively discussion provides clarity and depth to this most vexing of contemporary conditions.”
Charlotte Macdonald, Victoria University of Wellington

“In this meticulous analysis of contemporary society, Martschukat lays bare the cultural and historical roots of the modern fitness boom.”
WOZ–Die Wochenzeitung

“This original and engaging book addresses some of the most pressing questions of our time: critical social history at its best.”

The Age of Fitness is an evocative and persuasive big picture explanation of fitness... it is a masterful piece of rich, detailed and nuanced contextualisation.”
Sport, Education and Society

“The book provides an excellent framework for the fat studies researcher/activist to understand fitness as a means of creating self-regulated workers required in the neoliberal epoch and for reinforcing social class privilege.”
Fat Studies

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