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

Emily Martin, Author
Emily Martin, Author Beacon Press (MA) $25 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8070-4626-5
Reviewed on: 05/30/1994
Release date: 06/01/1994
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)
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