UJ’s Prof Barnes on class-based struggle and health behaviour change

geography and provides a moral framework for how the poor should think and behave in relation to their own and their compatriots’ ‘development’. However, the consequences of behavioural citizenship include stifling talk about class-based struggles for health and equality, argued Prof Brendon Barnes at his professorial inauguration at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on 7 September 2016.

“The notion that your thoughts influence your behaviour and, in turn, your health has become a pervasive feature of modern society. Funders, policy makers, academics, governments, consultants, industry, non-governmental organizations and change agents spend significant resources to encourage people to eat healthier, exercise more, engage in safe sex, consume alcohol in moderation, get enough sleep, go for regular medical check-ups, and to take their medication, to name a few,” said Prof Barnes.

In the global South, behaviour change programs are often framed by discourses of ‘development’ and attempt to promote the uptake and sustained use of ‘simple’ technologies such as improved cook stoves, oral rehydration solutions, insecticide treated bed nets, improved water storage vessels and condoms, he said.

“Resistance to behaviour change programs is more politically interesting than what is currently represented in the literature, such as non-adherence, program/implementation failure or methodological deficiencies,” he argued.

Discussing the faeces-throwing protests in at Cape Town’s airport and elsewhere in the city as an example, he said: “Health behaviour change programs represent much more than just health and development in the way the mainstream imagines. It also forms part of a powerful set of discourses of behavioural citizenship about how the poor should develop.

“Those discourses state that the poor should take up programs and partner with government; they should be patient with interim solutions while the City figures out a long term solution to the ‘problem’ of low income settlements; and residents should also express their grievances in appropriate ways.

“Behaviour then is not just about ‘behaviour change’ to adopt development programs, but also in how people should ‘behave’ in terms of how they resist those programs,” he said.

Prof Barnes leads the Critical Health Studies thematic area in the UJ Department of Psychology. His research focuses on health, psychology and behaviour change in the Global South.

By drawing on a number of theoretical resources from psychology and public health, his work critically engages with health behaviour change programs and what they have come to mean, asking questions such as: How effective are health behaviour change programmes in resource-limited contexts? What do behaviour change interventions overlook? How are behaviour change interventions resisted by their intended beneficiaries?

His work is based on several behaviour change studies in household air pollution, child respiratory health, water and sanitation, child lead exposure and mental health.

See Prof Barnes’ research publications on Google Scholar.



Prof Barnes Uj
“Health behaviour change forms part of a moral framework for how the poor should think and behave in relation to their development. Does psychology do more harm than good in development politics?” reflected Prof Brendon Barnes at his Professorial Inauguration on Wednesday, 6 September 2016.
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