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

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