Immunology, a Dubious Ally of Anthropology? A Comment David Napier's "Nonself Help: How Immunology Might Reframe the Enlightenment"

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Essay Excerpt

David Napier suggests that contemporary immunology has begun to move away from its traditional definition as “the science of self and nonself” and indeed no longer functions as such. Based on an analysis of popular as well as scientific textbooks, he explores the complexity of immune responses, showing how it is impossible to reduce them to a simple “rejection or destruction” model of foreign substances entering the human body. Furthermore, the most recent developments in immunology, he argues, may be applied at the macro level and provide new insights into the relationship and interaction between cultures.

At first sight, Napier's analysis seems to echo the numerous criticisms aimed at immunological research that focus solely on the self–nonself definition (which he refers to as “illogical”). This definition has, without doubt, been a source of discomfort for some immunologists who try to replace it with different formulae based on the interaction and receptiveness to binding of surface molecules. Their attempts, however, are reminiscent of the fate of empiricism—from Hume's criticisms, through the post-Kantian reflections of Fichte and Schelling, to phenomenology's empirical reversals in which relations and an awareness of how sensations are associated replace an early causal interest in substance (153).

Marie Moulin, Anne. "Immunology, a Dubious Ally of Anthropology? A Comment on David Napier's 'Nonself Help: How Immunology Might Reframe the Enlightenment'." Cultural Anthropology 27.1(2012): 153–161.

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