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Cult Anthropol. 2012;27(1):122-37.

Nonself help: how immunology might reframe the Enlightenment.

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University College London.


The classical immunological paradigm is predicated on the body's ability to recognize and eliminate “nonself.” However, the “self–nonself” model has yet to facilitate any resolution of the field's major concerns, and may thus prove to be of limited use. Merely discarding it is no solution, as the juxtaposition of “self” and “nonself” persists in research, in clinical settings, and in everyday practice despite the best efforts of theoretical immunologists. Instead, the very conception of “selfhood” may prove to be key. Replacing immunology's prior and persistent “self” with less static concepts derived from non-Western contexts not only resolves immunology's famous paradoxes but also offers a new and more accurate model that allows immunology to reframe what may become an outmoded Enlightenment construct of “self.” In such a new paradigm, immunology's well-known system of protection and defense is replaced with a view in which nonself becomes less the body's enemy than its primary mechanism for the creative assimilation of difference. This incorporative model—in which the “immune system” functions more as a search engine than as an expeller of difference—both resolves outstanding paradoxes, and complies more accurately with contemporary knowledge and research practice.

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