Rise and Shine: Sunlight, Technology and Health

By Simon Carter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Heliosis: Part 2 - Building Worlds of Sunlight

We have considered how sunlight was becoming established as a positive entity - as a socio technical element of the social hygienic regime. A recurring theme in this has been how the city was produced as a seat of depravity, ill-health and pollution, a theme that has been associated with a wide variety of movements and intellectual traditions. Thus both the Scouting and leisure camping movements drew on ideals of pastoralism - the 'image of lost rural bliss and to an affinity with Nature' (Ward and Hardy 1984: 9) - and then set these against the malevolent influence of city life. Indeed the reaction against the perceived distortion caused by modern industrial urban life was widespread in the late-nineteenth-century Arts and Crafts movement, and gained an expression in the works of writers and commentators such as William Morris (Morris 1962; Morris 1974) and Edward Carpenter (Carpenter 1887). Similarly many theories of disease aetiology implicated the environment of the industrialized urban centres. Thus one of the assumptions underpinning the sanatoria movement was that tuberculosis was exacerbated by city life and removal to the restful influence of 'nature' may aid a cure. Theories about the causes of rickets similarly sought an explanation in the conditions of confinement in city habitats. Additionally the social hygiene movement, especially as represented by organizations like the New Health Society, the People's League of Health and the Sunlight League regarded the city, as constituted at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, as fundamentally unhealthy places for mass residence.

Of course, these negative ideas about the city fit with a long tradition of regarding the quality of people's lived experiences as based on aspects of the materialities of place and environment. The recurring cultural theme of place meaning has been fully explored by Raymond Williams (Williams 1973), in his study of the country and the city. In this he traces the rural/urban dichotomy that, since early industrialization, has divided localities between ideals of peace, innocence and virtue versus worldliness, noise and ambition. The rural has been associated with a unity between humans and nature and as the true site of meaningful community. This tradition has, as we have seen, also penetrated the sociotechnical boundary between the body and the sun. However nowhere has this been more apparent, particularly in its more Utopian guises, than with attempts to plan the built landscape. Hence by the end of the nineteenth century

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