A picture of health : visual representation of the subject in Irish government health ephemera, 1970s - 1990s

Holmes, Nina (2018) A picture of health : visual representation of the subject in Irish government health ephemera, 1970s - 1990s. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


From the 1970s onward, measures to improve the health of the population were expanded by Irish governments. In an international climate of health improvement efforts in the late twentieth century (Helfand, 2010, pp. 134-139), this period saw the establishment of an Irish government department with specific responsibility for health education (the Health Education Bureau in 1975), and consequently an increase in the production of health material such as pamphlets and booklets. Engaging with a range of health areas (diet and exercise; maternal health; intoxication; HIV and AIDS), this thesis examines representation and creation of 'subjects' in health ephemera produced by the Irish government between the years 1970 and 1996. Through analysis of visual constructions and portrayals of individuals within the context of important historical reference points, I propose the consideration of Irish health ephemera (predominantly pamphlets) as a category of what Louis Althusser characterised as 'Ideological State Apparatus' (Althusser, 1984, p.17). As part of a collective hegemonic influence, this material encouraged self-regulation through bodily regimens, or what Michael Foucault has termed the 'technologies of the self' (Foucault, 1988, p.18). The relationship between ideology and physical bodies, and the resulting formation of 'self-regulating subjects' is examined through a prism of ephemera produced by the Irish government health organisations (Foucault, 1994, p.33). This research discusses the reflective and formative nature of health promotion which is engendered by a twofold process of subject creation. Visual and rhetorical representations employ techniques of categorisation, idealisation and denigration of individuals to communicate physical and social 'norms' (constructing and ideological position). The significance of this work is to act as a lens through which insight about Irish history, culture, social structure and the nature of power relations can be gained. Situated at an interface of disciplines, my research aims to contribute to discourses within design history and the history of medicine by exploring a time period in which research has thus far been relatively limited within these disciplines in Ireland. This is undertaken through the analysis of predominantly previously un-researched primary sources.

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