Never too late for pleasure

Aging, neoliberalism, and the politics of potentiality in Denmark

by HENRIK HVENEGAARD MIKKELSEN

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Health promotion in the Danish welfare state increasingly consists of helping people to identify and realize their inner potential for health and happiness. Such a “politics of potentiality” might seem to reflect the widespread neoliberal economic deregulation and austerity policies that have in recent decades marked public health sectors throughout the industrialized world. But in the encounter between the Danish state and its aging citizens, all moral demands converge on the imperative of identifying how citizens may become subjects who live up to certain definitions of what constitutes pleasure and self-realization. This represents an instantiation of neoliberal health promotion that targets the sense of loss that people associate with their unactualized potentials—their unlived lives.