Rise and Shine: Sunlight, Technology and Health

By Simon Carter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Sunshine, Hygiene and the Sun Cure:
Part I - Rickets, Sunlight and Actinotherapy

The previous chapter developed arguments concerning the discourse linking morality and nature,how the sun's rays became a means by which the body could become marked as having acquired good moral health. However sunlight, at this time, was also emerging as a socio technical solution to contemporary health problems. In short, as a giver of health in its own right. This chapter will begin to examine the practices and techniques which produced sunlight as a source of hygiene and health. To do this we will look at the widespread endeavours to enrol the medical establishment into a therapy based on sun exposure. These were used to fight a range of pathologies - with the principle target of these therapies being rickets and tuberculosis. Throughout the first decades of the twentieth century, mainstream medical journals frequently discussed the issue of sunlight's potential as a treatment for a range of pathologies. Two themes can be discerned in these sources: first, the ongoing struggle to make sunlight therapy durable as a therapeutic practice that was distinct from conventional allopathic medicine, because it was seen as a 'natural' and 'organic' form of healing; and second, the need for caution, care and medical supervision to prevent injury during sun exposure.

We will see later in sections how the medical movement to establish the sun's rays as a durable therapy was connected to, and in many ways became indistinguishable from, a wider cultural movement to establish the sun's rays as of benefit to all - even those people not suffering from illness. However it was the therapeutic use of sunlight that established a particular discourse of health around sunlight. The medical application of sunlight was intimately connected to the trajectory of two diseases: rickets and tuberculosis. In many ways the trajectories of these diseases, when considered from the standpoint of sunlight therapy, are intimately entwined as the claims made for the advantages of sunlight treatment often conflated a number of different illnesses. However it may be useful to initially consider these conditions separately as their histories of treatment and understanding involve different specificities.

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