Social and Cultural Lives of Immune Systems

By James M. Wilce Jr | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Relating to our worlds in a psychobiological context

The impact of disclosure on self-generation and immunity

Roger J. Booth2and Kathryn P. Davison3


Introduction

The notion of an immune system initially arose within western medicine as a concept of an internal physiological system that protects or defends our bodies against a potentially hostile (pathogenic) environment. Its appearance during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries coincided with the development of the germ theory of disease, and much of modern immunological language and research is still based on a metaphor that assumes powerful warlike, hierarchical, autonomous activity. A broader view however, is emerging from interdisciplinary studies of the relationship between immunological and psychological or sociocultural behavior. It conceives of the immune system as an integrative, cognitive system that discriminates between self and non-self and continually maintains a coherent relationship between self and context (compare Cone and Martin, this volume). In this chapter we explore how meaning in a psychosociocultural context might relate to the self that immunologists describe. Interviews in a medical school indicate that the immune system of medical science differs from that perceived as operating in daily lives of individuals, including medical students. Individuals generally attribute feelings of vigor and vitality to a well-functioning immune system, and feelings of fatigue to poor immune function. These findings have implications for social and medical understanding of immunity. Further, the way we relate to our worlds in a psychosocial context may have an impact to how our immune system relates to its world and how immune self/non-self distinction is maintained. Emotional expression through writing can alter the psychosocial milieu and health of an individual. We explore how this might affect immune functioning and whether cultural background may play a part in this.


Immune symbolism

One of the defining aspects of western medicine of the late nineteenth century was the development of the germ theory of disease. The concept of

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