Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity on American Culture-from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS

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Anthropologist Emily Martin has become one of America's most admired cultural critics, known for her creative, interdisciplinary work on the social context of science. Her award-winning book The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction revolutionized our thinking about women's reproductive lives, and her research on gender stereotypes that shape medical language has been widely influential. In Flexible Bodies, Martin turns to the human immune system, tracing the notion of immunity in a wide range of...
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Overview

Anthropologist Emily Martin has become one of America's most admired cultural critics, known for her creative, interdisciplinary work on the social context of science. Her award-winning book The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction revolutionized our thinking about women's reproductive lives, and her research on gender stereotypes that shape medical language has been widely influential. In Flexible Bodies, Martin turns to the human immune system, tracing the notion of immunity in a wide range of contexts from World War II to the present day. Most of us take for granted the idea of strong and flexible immune systems, but Martin shows that American's ideas about health and immunity have changed dramatically since the 1940s. These changes have profound implications for the ways we work and interact, for how we are valued in society and by our employers, and for the distribution and rationing of health care. Martin personally explores the notion of "flexibility" in a dazzling variety of contexts, from medical labs to magazine covers, TV commercials, movies, and cartoons. As an AIDS "buddy," she volunteered in a hospice and witnessed doctors' responses to people with AIDS at "grand rounds." She joined ACT UP and became a demonstrator. While studying outdoor training sessions for corporate employees, now widely promulgated to teach them to meet and adapt to new challenges, she scaled a high wall blindfolded, climbed a forty-foot pole, and leapt into space in a harness attached to a bungee cord. And she and her research group interviewed hundreds of scientists, alternative health practitioners, people with AIDS, and many other Americans about their definitions of immunity and health. As a participant-observer in these and many other contexts, Martin experienced the ways in which ideas about immunity - and the need to be responsive and flexible to survive - have come to influence our daily lives. Martin shows that "flexibility" has become a valued com
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The traditional image of the immune system as an army defending the body against foreign invaders is gradually being supplanted, asserts Martin, who teaches anthropology at Johns Hopkins. She sees a new model of immunity emerging among conventional scientists, holistic practitioners and the public, according to which the immune system is thought of as a ``field'' whose dysfunctions contribute to allergies, cancer, heart disease and AIDS. But a corollary of this emergent view of the body as a complex, constantly changing system, she maintains, is the notion that some people are more ``flexible'' than others who are less adaptable. ``Flexibility'' is coming to be valued more highly than the individual, in Martin's analysis, and this underlies a disturbing new Social Darwinism. For this wide-ranging, sometimes provocative study, Martin interviewed members of a polio survivors' support group, joined ACT UP demonstrations, was a participant-observer in an immunology research lab and a volunteer ``buddy'' in a residence for the HIV-infected. Illustrations. (June)
William Beatty
Basing her intriguing book on the responses of both nonscientists and scientists (who vary greatly socially, politically, and in income-levels) to a survey concerned with knowledge of the immune system and also on radio and TV reporting and magazine and book literature, Martin shows how views of the immune system have changed during the course of a half century. Her presentation becomes especially provocative as it turns to the current scene. For just as businesses now seek more employee flexibility so that they--the businesses--can adjust quickly to changing conditions, her respondents expect more flexibility from the human immune system. Martin points out the disturbing implications of the belief that individuals can train their immune systems like businesses train employees and that groups of persons can be ranked in society by the quality of their immune systems. Enhanced by illustrations from many sources, her effort will make an excellent focus for study and discussion groups.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807046265
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 5/28/1994
  • Pages: 320

Table of Contents

Illustrations
Preface
Acknowledgments
Pt. 1 Introduction: Problems and Methods 1
Pt. 2 Historical Overview 21
Pt. 3 Visions of the Immune System 45
1 The Body at War: Media Views of the Immune System 49
2 Immunology on the Street: How Nonscientists See the Immune System 64
3 "Fix My Head": How Alternative Practitioners See the Immune System 82
4 Immunophilosophy: How Scientists See the Immune System 91
Pt. 4 Configurations of Healthy Bodies 113
5 Complex Systems 115
6 System Breakdown: "Dying from Within" 127
7 Flexible Systems 143
Pt. 5 Practicums 161
8 Interpreting Electron Micrographs 167
9 Saturation 183
10 Educating and Training the Body: Vaccines and Tests 193
11 Educating and Training at Work 207
Pt. 6 Post-Darwinism 227
Appendix 1 The Neighborhoods 251
Appendix 2 The People We Interviewed 255
Appendix 3 Questions for Neighborhood Interviews 263
Notes 267
References 285
Index 311
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