Rise and Shine: Sunlight, Technology and Health

By Simon Carter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Heliosis: Part I - Leagues of Sunshine

So the use of sunlight therapies and practices, both natural and artificial, expanded during the first part of the twentieth century, and this growth was interwoven with contemporary social developments such as the rising social hygiene campaign and the movement within sections of medicine towards 'holism'. It should be stressed that this was not a simple case of one determining the other - of social figurations producing new technical practices, or vice versa. Rather this was an instance of an articulation between human and non-human sociotechnical entities that in turn allowed the emergence of a nexus made up of sunlight, bodies and social worlds - in short, the making of a heliosis. Pickering explores the articulation, of the human and non-human, using a performative idiom: 'the world is continually doing things and so are we … the engineering of the material and the human do not proceed independently of one another: in scientific culture, particular configurations of material and human agency appear as interactively stabilized against one another' (Pickering 1999: 144). Thus Pickering sees a strong connection between 'material agency' and human agency - all sociotechnical practices are knotted couplings of the human and the material, the real-time intertwining processes of'interactive stabilization'. Hence, to give one example from actinotherapy, the doctor-child-'sun lamp' triad is an attempt to stabilize a disease (rickets), a novel treatment and also a particular medical paradigm; but it was also stabilizing a particular moral order in which mothers could not care for their children, and in which poverty and poor diet were unrelated to poor health. But just as a specific form of holistic social hygiene was being stabilized, so too were new bodies being produced - the pallor of the rachitic body was translated into the brown body of a robust, healthy and ruddy child.

Just as the use of sunlight in treatment became more commonplace, so too did its use outside of a therapeutic environment. We have already seen how sunlight was being framed in medical practice as an entity that might be of value in raising the general resistance of the body to disease - it was becoming a 'hygienic' factor for the promotion of good health - a tonic that might be of benefit to all and not just those suffering from rickets or tuberculosis. A number of factors were steadily weaving the sun's rays into the constitution of a body that would become strengthened and invigorated. Sunlight was producing new

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