In a state of corruption : loathsome disease and the body politic

Robertson, Josephine (1999). In a state of corruption : loathsome disease and the body politic PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

Attached Files (Some files may be inaccessible until you login with your UQ eSpace credentials)
Name Description MIMEType Size Downloads
Read with bookreader  the13742.pdf Full text application/pdf 43.22MB 471
Author Robertson, Josephine
Thesis Title In a state of corruption : loathsome disease and the body politic
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1999
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor Helen Tiffin
John Frow
Total pages 286
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
11 Medical and Health Sciences
Formatted abstract
This thesis is about leprosy and its metaphors and the deployment of these at a particularly significant moment in Queensland history and a formative one for the nation as a whole. In order to explain the discursive contexts out of which leprosy emerges and the ways in which local conditions intersected with imported ideas and tropes, I have divided the thesis into two major sections: the first deals with leprosy as both disease and metaphor in Europe and the British Empire, while the second deals with the impact of these discourses and their specific application and ramifications in the colony of Queensland at the turn of the last century.

In the first section, chapters one to four set up this complex formation: Chapter one considers the ways in which metaphors of disease reveal anxiety and stress in particular societies, and then identifies some of those anxieties prevalent in England, the Empire, and the colonies at the turn of the century; Chapter two then examines the tradition of representations of leprosy which culminated in a particularly rich trope at the end of the century; Chapter three takes this analysis of the representation of leprosy one step further by connecting its older figurations with the newly emergent germ theories, drawing attention to the ways in which bacilli were imagined in terms of metaphors of invasion and colonisation; Chapter four indicates how this complex is further intensified by fin-de-siecle theories of degeneration which imagined the body politic in metaphors drawn from the physical body. Chapter five then examines the significance of the rising tide of concern in the Empire and in England that the "contagious" disease, leprosy, would "reinvade" England.

The second section of my thesis considers the ways in which these discursive strands intersected with the events in the colony of Queensland which imagined itself as extremely vulnerable to disease through immigration. Chapters seven, eight, and nine describe the efforts to control leprosy in colonial Queensland, demonstrating how the fear of the disease generated successive attempts to create sites of quarantine which proved to be unsatisfactory. The horror kept returning, however, and each time the sense of taintedness and impurity recurred with corresponding intensity.

Chapter ten demonstrates the ways in which the trope of leprosy (deployed through discourses of race, class and gender) proved crucial in the formation of a nation. The threat of leprosy was deliberately invoked by working-class interests in opposition to the black worker and in support for the formation of a Federated white Australia. In conclusion the thesis notes that, as the nation moves towards a celebration of a century of Federation (and considers the possibility of becoming a republic) this apparently forgotten disease still haunts the conception of an Australian identity and the constitution of its "body politic." The spectral figure of the leper continues to energise contemporary debates over immigration.

The work presented in this thesis is, to the best of my knowledge and belief, original, except where acknowledgement is made to the contrary. It has not been submitted, either in whole or part, for a degree at this or any other university.
Keyword Leprosy -- Queensland -- History
Additional Notes Thesis has no page 160. The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
Version Filter Type
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Wed, 20 Jan 2010, 08:16:29 EST by Ms Natalie Hull on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service