Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type

Thesis (Master's)

Department or Program

Liberal Studies (MALS)

First Advisor

James E. Dobson

Second Advisor

Donald E. Pease

Third Advisor

Regine Rosenthal


During the second half of the twentieth century, liberalism gave way to neoliberalism, and as a result, the cultural role of wellness also expanded, leading to the creation of what Carl Cederström and André Spicer call “the wellness syndrome.” Now, in a society inundated by yoga studios, corporate mindfulness programs, and data tracking apps, wellness has expanded into a multibillion dollar industry. Yet the allure of wellness is not immediately understandable. What is it about wellness that has created an almost religious fervor among its adherents? This thesis offers a solution to this question in the form of what I will call conditional recognition, or a form of recognition that is dependent on certain circumstances to exist.

In viewing the contemporary wellness industry through the lens of conditional recognition, I make the argument that people pursue wellness—and other forms of symbolic capital, like education—because they are fundamentally in search of recognition. However, when people neglect themselves in order to attain a culturally constructed ideal, the recognition conferred on them is recognition of their performance, not the person. As a result, their fundamental need to be recognized is not met and they must continue striving—and laboring—to be seen as valuable. Therefore, conditional recognition—and the wellness industry more generally—is ultimately in service of the healthy functioning of capitalism, not individuals.