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A Body Worth Defending Immunity, Biopolitics, and the Apotheosis of the Modern Body

by Ed Cohen

A Body Worth Defending Immunity, Biopolitics, and the Apotheosis of the Modern Body Synopsis

Biological immunity as we know it does not exist until the late nineteenth century. Nor does the premise that organisms defend themselves at the cellular or molecular levels. For nearly two thousand years immunity, a legal concept invented in ancient Rome, serves almost exclusively political and juridical ends. Self-defense also originates in a juridico-political context; it emerges in the mid-seventeenth century, during the English Civil War, when Thomas Hobbes defines it as the first natural right. In the 1880s and 1890s, biomedicine fuses these two political precepts into one, creating a new vital function, immunity-as-defense. In A Body Worth Defending, Ed Cohen reveals the unacknowledged political, economic, and philosophical assumptions about the human body that biomedicine incorporates when it recruits immunity to safeguard the vulnerable living organism. Inspired by Michel Foucault's writings about biopolitics and biopower, Cohen traces the migration of immunity from politics and law into the domains of medicine and science. Offering a genealogy of the concept, he illuminates a complex of thinking about modern bodies that percolates through European political, legal, philosophical, economic, governmental, scientific, and medical discourses from the mid-seventeenth century through the twentieth. He shows that by the late nineteenth century, the body literally incarnates modern notions of personhood. In this lively cultural rumination, Cohen argues that by embracing the idea of immunity-as-defense so exclusively, biomedicine naturalizes the individual as the privileged focus for identifying and treating illness, thereby devaluing or obscuring approaches to healing situated within communities or collectives.

A Body Worth Defending Immunity, Biopolitics, and the Apotheosis of the Modern Body Press Reviews

Inspired by Michel Foucault's writings about biopolitics and biopower, Cohen traces immunity's migration from politics and law into the domains of medicine and science. Offering a genealogy of the concept, he illuminates a complex of thinking about modern bodies which percolates through European political, legal, philosophical, economic, governmental, scientific, and medical discourses from the mid-seventeenth century through the twentieth. . . . In this lively cultural rumination, Cohen argues that by embracing the idea of immunity-as-defense so exclusively, biomedicine naturalizes the individual as the privileged focus for identifying and treating illness, thereby devaluing or obscuring approaches to healing situated within communities or collectives. -- Nelson Santos * VisualAIDS Blog * For those inclined to Foucauldian approaches-and I include myself here-it is a most welcome and thorough study that pushes the Foucauldian corpus further, conceptually and substantively. . . . [T]his book is unsurpassed. -- Alison Bashford * Metascience * Ed Cohen's A Body Worth Defending provides an excellent example of the latter genre. . . . Cohen's sociopolitical history brilliantly navigates through various nineteenth-century interfaces of the medical and the political domains. . . . A Body Worth Defending reinforces the importance of the idea of immunity to elucidate notions of personal identity in advanced Western societies. -- Alfred J. Tauber * Isis * Ed Cohen offers a provocative and demanding account of what he calls the `back story' of the apotheosis of the modern body through the thought provoking trajectory of immunity as an unquestioned metaphor that unreflectively incorporates juridico-political assumptions. . . . A Body Worth Defending has much to offer the diligent reader, who is interested in tracing modernity's genealogy and its shape-shifting over time in its understanding of the nature of the human and its present manifestation as a biological phenomena separated and distinct from the environment. -- C. F. Black * Leonardo * [W]ith a decisive reading of Foucault, a well-researched insight into contemporary biopolitics and immunity, both philosophically and scientifically, and an historical genealogy of these topics that has no current rival, there is little doubt this work will have longstanding status. -- Elliot A. Jarbe * Foucault Studies * A Body Worth Defending presents an erudite analysis of immunity that elucidates complex theoretical ideas through the patient weaving of historical narrative. Cohen's text, which in itself constitutes a fascinating historical study, presents a strong, well supported case for how politics insinuates itself into the fabric of our being. This persuasive and timely critique makes an important contribution to political and philosophical engagements with immunology, and to histories of medicine more generally. -- Michelle Jamieson * Social History of Medicine * Ed Cohen's original epistemological history sheds new light on the taken for granted modern imperative to care for our health by tending our immune systems. This important book reveals in startling and fresh ways the philosophical groundings that made this imperative seem natural. -Emily Martin, author of Flexible Bodies: Tracking Immunity in American Culture from the Days of Polio to the Age of AIDS Ed Cohen provides a breathtakingly original exploration of the ways in which the immunity, a concept defined and complicated through the strange interlocking of biological and medical with legal and political discourses, has come to explain modern bodies, both individual and collective. A brilliant, timely contribution to understanding the biopolitics of illness, contagion and defense. -Elizabeth Grosz, author of The Nick of Time: Politics, Evolution and the Untimely Inspired by Michel Foucault's writings about biopolitics and biopower, Cohen traces immunity's migration from politics and law into the domains of medicine and science. Offering a genealogy of the concept, he illuminates a complex of thinking about modern bodies which percolates through European political, legal, philosophical, economic, governmental, scientific, and medical discourses from the mid-seventeenth century through the twentieth. . . . In this lively cultural rumination, Cohen argues that by embracing the idea of immunity-as-defense so exclusively, biomedicine naturalizes the individual as the privileged focus for identifying and treating illness, thereby devaluing or obscuring approaches to healing situated within communities or collectives. - Nelson Santos, VisualAIDS Blog For those inclined to Foucauldian approaches-and I include myself here-it is a most welcome and thorough study that pushes the Foucauldian corpus further, conceptually and substantively. . . . [T]his book is unsurpassed. - Alison Bashford, Metascience Ed Cohen's A Body Worth Defending provides an excellent example of the latter genre. . . . Cohen's sociopolitical history brilliantly navigates through various nineteenth-century interfaces of the medical and the political domains. . . . A Body Worth Defending reinforces the importance of the idea of immunity to elucidate notions of personal identity in advanced Western societies. - Alfred J. Tauber, Isis A Body Worth Defending presents an erudite analysis of immunity that elucidates complex theoretical ideas through the patient weaving of historical narrative. Cohen's text, which in itself constitutes a fascinating historical study, presents a strong, well supported case for how politics insinuates itself into the fabric of our being. This persuasive and timely critique makes an important contribution to political and philosophical engagements with immunology, and to histories of medicine more generally. - Michelle Jamieson, Social History of Medicine [W]ith a decisive reading of Foucault, a well-researched insight into contemporary biopolitics and immunity, both philosophically and scientifically, and an historical genealogy of these topics that has no current rival, there is little doubt this work will have longstanding status. - Elliot A. Jarbe, Foucault Studies Ed Cohen offers a provocative and demanding account of what he calls the `back story' of the apotheosis of the modern body through the thought provoking trajectory of immunity as an unquestioned metaphor that unreflectively incorporates juridico-political assumptions. . . . A Body Worth Defending has much to offer the diligent reader, who is interested in tracing modernity's genealogy and its shape-shifting over time in its understanding of the nature of the human and its present manifestation as a biological phenomena separated and distinct from the environment. - C. F. Black, Leonardo

Book Information

ISBN: 9780822345350
Publication date: 16th October 2009
Author: Ed Cohen
Publisher: Duke University Press
Format: Paperback / softback
Pagination: 384 pages
Categories: Medicine: general issues, Immunology,

About Ed Cohen

Ed Cohen teaches cultural studies and directs the doctoral program in women's and gender studies at Rutgers University.

More About Ed Cohen

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