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Narratives of balance and moderation at the limits of human performance
Vanessa Heggie

This chapter investigates notions of balance in the ‘natural laboratories’ of extreme physiology – specifically the high Arctic, Antarctica and high altitude in South America and the Himalaya. Physiologists and other biomedical scientists celebrated these sites as spaces in which many varieties of imbalance could be studied. The chapter concentrates on three different kinds of balance: moderation, physiological homeostasis and psychological stress responses. Through these case studies extreme environments emerge as sites where, firstly, notions of balance could be debated and reconstituted, and secondly where the white adult male’s body became established as the norm for such research. This unquestioned centralisation of a very specific kind of body as a standard measure in balance research – particularly as it was a body not indigenous to extreme environments – had consequences for the practices of both science and exploration.

in Balancing the self
Alcohol health education campaigns in England
Alex Mold

This chapter explores the complex relationship between ‘the public’ and the ‘self’ in post-war British public health by tracing the development of alcohol health education during the 1970s and 1980s. Health education was put forward during these decades as a way to encourage individuals to moderate their alcohol consumption – to behave responsibly by becoming ‘sensible drinkers’. Yet, at the same time, considerable scepticism was expressed (even by those involved in the campaigns) about the ability of health education to change behaviour. Other approaches, such as increasing the price of alcohol, were suggested as ways of reducing alcohol consumption at the population level. At issue, however, was not simply the capacity for individuals to achieve healthy balance. Policy-makers weighed numerous social, economic and political concerns alongside health outcomes. A growing focus on moderation may have expanded public health’s target population, but a reliance on health education and nebulous concepts like the ‘sensible drinker’ also reflected the ways that disciplinary power could be counterbalanced by broader policy concerns.

in Balancing the self
Open Access (free)
Balancing the self in the twentieth century
Mark Jackson and Martin D. Moore

This chapter introduces the volume’s major arguments and themes. It provides a critical account of prominent theorisations of balance and selfhood, and surveys and frames each contribution to the volume. In doing so, the chapter outlines what has been at stake in projects for achieving balanced selves in the twentieth century. It not only makes plain how historical investigations into balanced selfhood complicate assumptions about the links between individualised balance and forms of production or political regimes, but also highlights the malleability and multi-valence of balance as a concept. It argues, therefore, that the volume not only contributes to the cultural history of an everyday concept, but also generates insights into the history of health governance and subjectivity, and into the close connections between medicine, politics and the regulation of social life.

in Balancing the self
Visualising obesity as a public health concern in 1970s and 1980s Britain
Jane Hand

This chapter examines the use of visual images to promote healthy eating as a tool of disease prevention in British health education during the 1970s and 1980s. It analyses the activities of the HEC, and especially its poster output, in reorienting nutrition as a major part of its activities, and simultaneously highlights the role of public information films and commercial television in providing ancillary educative content through the documentary format. Though representing only a fraction of the filmic and poster material produced on nutrition and disease at this time, these examples reveal how scientific knowledge about dietetics and disease causation were entangled in a range of cultural and representational practices focused on tropes of gender, body image and the ‘cult’ of slimming. By coding disease risk in terms of particular visual attributes and specific practical preventive measures, these images functioned to express and articulate specific health ideologies. These ideologies promoted the idea that individualised health risks, often visualised through the obese body, could be overcome (at least in part) by complying with a myriad of health advice that together would construct individual balanced good health.

in Balancing the self
Natasha Feiner

This chapter outlines how and why civil aviation schedules were regulated in the post-war period, tracing the shifting regulatory relationships between the British state, business and individual workers during the four decades after 1954. It argues that programmes to manage imbalance did not neatly map onto broader changes in British politics. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, British governments consistently refused to formally control airline schedules. Regulations limiting working hours and attempting to balance the duty cycle were introduced, but responsibility for fatigue management ultimately remained with individual pilots, and regulation and enforcement thus continued to be permissive and flexible. Despite supposed shifts from social democratic to neo-liberal governments in Britain, a liberal, gentlemanly professionalism remained a consistent frame for the regulation of work and fatigue. Through its examination of aviation scheduling, therefore, this chapter asks how and why new selves were constructed and regulated in the post-war period at the expense of structural adjustments to working environments; sets out a new timeline for twentieth-century subjectivity; and historicises present-day concerns with work-life balance and the costs of overwork.

in Balancing the self
Dietary advice and agency in North America and Britain
Nicos Kefalas

This chapter traces the history of healthy eating in the second half of the twentieth century in terms of the advice offered by the authors of self-help books in the USA and UK. It examines the transatlantic nature of programmes for balance, comparing advice about obesity and dieting, exploring the cultural authority of celebrity dietitians and assessing the degree of knowledge exchange between the two countries. In doing so, it investigates the ways in which readers learned about ‘healthy eating’ on a day-to-day level, generating a detailed historical analysis of the ‘healthy diet’ ideal and the ways in which the self-help genre contributed to the ‘health manufacturing’ process. Mobilising persuasive motivational language along with scientific jargon, self-help authors were able to simultaneously promote their own status and appeal to readers’ sense of agency. Analysis of self-help also reveals, however, the controversies associated with self-help and the promotion of healthy balanced diets.

in Balancing the self
Mark Jackson

This chapter investigates how the conjunction of socio-economic, cultural and political contexts made the midlife crisis – as both concept and experience – possible. By juxtaposing advice literature on healthy ageing in America, the work of marriage guidance counsellors in Britain, as well as cinematic and literary representations of the ‘emotional typhoon’ experienced during midlife transitions, it argues that the popularity of the term ‘midlife crisis’ lay in its resonance with growing concerns about the collapse of the American dream and post-Second World War anxieties about threats to the stability of the nuclear family. In both cases, notions of emotional balance were reconfigured by obsessions with the autonomous individual and the gospel of consumption. The belief that life could begin again at 40 was used to restabilise a seemingly unbalanced Western capitalist economy that could only be sustained by prolonging productivity and encouraging spending across the whole life course.

in Balancing the self
Open Access (free)
Teaching ‘relaxed living’ in post-war Britain
Ayesha Nathoo

Therapeutic relaxation techniques proliferated in the twentieth century, designed to counteract the myriad maladies popularly associated with the pace and pressures of modern Western living. Practitioners advocated forms of neuromuscular relaxation as safe, effective, drug-free therapies for conditions ranging from high blood pressure to migraine, labour pain and anxiety. However, the therapeutic efficacy of relaxation techniques relied on them being expertly taught, conscientiously learned and persistently practised. This chapter focuses on the pedagogy of twentieth-century therapeutic relaxation methods in Britain, paying particular attention to their material and audio-visual culture. Relaxation instruction and ideology were communicated through numerous channels including self-help books, group classes, correspondence courses, the mass media, teacher training forums, cassettes and biofeedback equipment. As the chapter makes clear, efforts to construct the self-balancing individual were deeply enmeshed with specific modes, processes and networks of communication. By considering the localised, socio-cultural specificities of relaxation therapies, it is possible to move beyond governmentality frameworks and develop more nuanced and culturally informed considerations of health education, health management and expertise of balance in the post-war period.

in Balancing the self
Cancer, modernity, and decline in fin-de-siècle Britain
Agnes Arnold-Forster

In this chapter, Agnes Arnold-Forster takes up the interplay between medical understandings of cancer and broader social and economic shifts, which, she notes, have given rise to cancer’s fluid metaphoric identity. The chapter situates the ‘new cancer epidemic’ of the fin de siècle within a climate of widespread anxiety about the vitality of the British Empire, and concerns about imperial over-reaching, as well as fears of the revolt of an apparently unruly, ungovernable, and newly enfranchised urban population. The metaphoric associations of the cancerous growth resonated in many colonial contexts, as doctors who reflected on medicine in non-European contexts became particularly engaged with the conceptualisation of certain races as more or less prone to the disease, and therefore as more or less ‘modern’. Commentators on the domestic ‘cancer epidemic’ perceived its presence as an unintended consequence of the public health successes of industrial modernity, such as lower infant mortality, increasing hospitalisation, and sanitary reforms. In these parallel, but conflicting, constructions of cancer as a pathology of progress, the disease itself emerged as a symptom of modern life that nonetheless manifested a national deterioration in health.

in Progress and pathology
Mikko Myllykangas

In this chapter, Mikko Myllykangas considers the phenomenon of suicide as discursively connected both to the conditions of modern life and to social degeneration and decline at the fin de siècle. In Finland, the principal case study of the chapter, the psychiatrist Thiodolf Saelan explicitly attributed the slowly increasing suicide rates in Finland to modern urban lifestyles, in an effort to accentuate the cultural differences between so-called ‘modernised’ Western nations, and other cultures. Myllykangas interrogates such claims in the context of Finnish society, which, he notes, was at a very different stage of industrial transition than many of its Western European counterparts. Analysis of the divergent constructions of the role of modernity in relation to suicide ultimately illustrate the ways in which physiological and psychological problems of the period were being constituted in relation to their social contexts and to the changing dynamics of urbanisation and industrialisation.

in Progress and pathology