Denise Baumann


Denise Baumann

Ammerländer Heerstraße 114-118
26129 Oldenburg
Building A3, Room A3 1-108
Phone: +49 441 798-2374


Fat, how? Self-Making Practices in Weight Watchers Meetings and the Fat Acceptance Movement in Germany


Obesity is regarded as one of the biggest health issues in industrialized nations as well as in developing countries. ‘Globesity’ is the buzzword coined to describe the ‘epidemic scale’ (WHO) of the global expansion of obesity within the last decades. As an ever present topic of mass media coverage, obesity is identified as a severe health risk for individuals and a costly liability for national welfare systems. The global increase of obesity and the mostly negative media coverage of ‘obese’ people raise questions about the societal status and representation of fat people. While many scientific studies focus on research on the causes and consequences of obesity, very little empirically informed research has been done on the everyday experiences of fat people themselves so far. The sociological dissertation project begins here, viewing ‘being fat’ as a social practice, an ongoing social experience, characterized by situated negotiation of relevance in interactions. How is it done then? How does one become fat and what role plays the social context in this process? Drawing on fat studies, the study compares two forms of collectivization of fat people. Meetings of Weight Watchers, a commercial company offering services to assist weight loss and the fat acceptance movement, a social movement seeking to transform the attitude towards fat people in society. The analysis is guided by the question how being fat is practically performed and made relevant as a part of self-making processes within the context of the collectives. The ethnographic study, including participatory observation, interviews, group discussions and document analysis, analyzes the verbal, bodily and self-expressive practices of the participants of the collectivizations, to uncover the connections, references and positioning processes between the different forms of collectivization and to contextualize being fat historically and culturally. The project is located within three current areas of social science research: the sociology of the body, research on the mediatization of society and studies on practices of human differentiation. The goal of the study is to make a contribution to the research of the practice of being fat, by viewing fatness not as a deviant bodily state, leading inevitably to exclusion, but as a crucial factor in self-making processes and as a possible basis for collectivization.

Main areas of research

  • Practice Theory
  • Media Sociology
  • Sociology of the Body
  • Qualitative Methods of Social Research
  • Practices of body(shape)-related online Collectivization
  • Fat studies

Brief Vita

since 04/2015   Member of the DFG Research Training Group: “Self-Making. Practices of Subjectivation in Historical and Interdisciplinary Perspective”
01/2014 - 04/2015   Research Assistant, section „Sociological Theory and Gender Studies“ at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
04/2012 - 09/1014   Study of Sociology at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
MA-Thesis: „Altering Perspectives, Changing Aspects, Disturbing Images: Processes of Constructing Body Images in ‘Pro-Ana’“
10/2008 - 03/2012   Study of Political Science at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
BA-Thesis: „The German ‚Bundesrat‘ as an Obstacle to Reform: Party Politicization and other Explaining Factors”


WiSe 2016/17Seminar „Body Turn? Themen, Konzepte und Perspektiven einer Kulturanalyse und -soziologie des Körpers“
SoSe 2016Seminar „Wissen des Körpers – Wissen vom Körper: Zum Konstitutionsverhältnis von Körper und Wissen“

Further Academic Functions

01/2014 - 05/2015   Research Assistant, Section „Sociological Theory and Gender Studies“ at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz and in the DFG Research Project „Zu einer Soziologie der Schwangerschaft “ at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
04/2013 - 03/2014   Tutor, Section „Sociological Theory und Gender Studies“ at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz


Becoming ‘fat’. Practices of Subjectivation in Forms of Collectivization of Overweight People. Given 07.04.2016, at the international conference: “Beauty and the Norm. Debating Standardization in Bodily Appearance”, organized by the Department of Ethnology at the University Bayreuth, 6.-8. April 2016

(Im)Possible Bodies. Practices of Subjectivation in Forms of Collectivization of Overweight People. Given 03.03.2016, at the conference: “[IM]Possible! Embodied and Mobile Heterotopies as Spaces of Education”, organized by the Department of Educational Science at the Philips University Marburg, 3.-5. March 2016

Die Performanz des Scheiterns – Eine soziologische ‚Fehler‘suche im Alltag und der Forschungspraxis. Given 10.10.2014, at the interdisciplinary Graduate Conference: „Epic Fail. On the Aesthetic of Failure from Medieval Times till Today“, organized by the German Institute at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, 9.–10. October 2014 in Mainz

Altering perspectives, changing aspects, disturbing images: Prozesse der Konstruktion von body images bei Pro-Ana. Given 25.10.2014, at the international, interdisciplinary conference: „Cut’n Paste The Body – Body and Gender in Times of their Technological (Re)Producibility”, organized by the DFG Research Project “The optimized Gender?” at the LMU Munich, 24.–25. October 2014 in Munich

(Changed: 2021-04-30)