Visualizing Bodies: Public Health and the Medicalized Everyday in Modern Japan
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This dissertation examines the complex network of visual culture that represented public health in early twentieth century Japan. I investigate the role of images in shaping modern Japanese public health discourse within four distinct spheres of cultural production: hygiene exhibitions, enlightenment posters, images of sporting women, and modernist painting. In doing so, I identify objects, spaces, and images as agents imbricated in the construction of a medicalized everyday—a scientific rationalization of everyday life rooted in the body. The visual material that grounds this analysis, from posters advertising vaccination clinics to photographic magazine spreads featuring female swimmers, represents the diverse contexts within which public health operated. My approach integrates an art historical framework into the study of modern public health to consider the ways that visual representations of the body created a dialogue between the image and the viewer—an exchange that affected the development of human subjectivities and understandings of embodiment. I address how the debates that conceptualized health and disease as modern constructs were situated around, on, and within the body. This dissertation proposes that state institutions, the medical community, cultural producers, and the Japanese public identified the human body as a site that could simultaneously reflect and influence the experience of modernity. I argue that modern visual discourses of the body articulated through the framework of public health transformed the experience of everyday life in modern Japan. This dissertation contributes to interdisciplinary scholarship in the fields of art history, visual studies, and the history of medicine by investigating the representational practices of modern public health in Japan. I focus on the visual culture of public health communication, located at the interstices between scientific knowledge production and popular reception, to uncover how the complexities of vision and its characteristics of mediation and resistance affected discourses on health, the body, and the individual.
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