2019 – № 2(18)

Author info:

Nestor Aleksandrovich Manichkin is Cand. Sc. in Sociology, Research Fellow in the Center of Medical Anthropology of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow)

Mark Vasilievich Goloviznin is Cand. Sc. in Medicine, Associate Professor at the Department of Internal Diseases of the Dentistry Faculty, Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry

Keywords: immunology, immunity, holism, vitalism, vital force, medicine history, biomedicine, biopolitics, medical systems integration, vaccination

Abstract. Discussed in the interview is the evolution of beliefs about the organism’s so-called “vital force”. These beliefs influenced the development and establishment of immunology as science. Modern immunology is facing several theoretical and methodological problems linked with “subjectness” of its basic categories – “friend or foe”, “danger signal”, etc., as well as with “objectness” of its material components – immune cells, antibodies, cytokines, etc. These problems are very relevant to medical anthropology. Also discussed is the problem of the influence of cultural discourse on medical knowledge modeling. The text pays attention to the development prospects of the notion “immunity” and, more generally, immunology.


The interview is a dialogue between N. A. Manichkin, Cand. Hist. Sc., Research Fellow at the Center of Medical Anthropology (IEA RAS) and M. V. Goloviznin, Cand. Med. Sc., Associate Professor at the Department of Internal Diseases of Dentistry Faculty of Yevdokimov Moscow State University of Medicine and Dentistry. The central topic of the interview is the historical development of beliefs of the so-called “vital force” of the system, which became the base of immunology. Although the vitalistic beliefs, which were the basis for early smallpox vaccination attempts, were based on magic and mysticism, the variolation practice helped to save many lives. This practice received scientific evidence much later, when cellular theory, the teaching of phagocytosis, and evolutionary biology allowed the scientists to create a theoretical framework of immunology. In this regard, M. V. Goloviznin remarks that medicine often cannot support new theoretical substantiation with therapeutical praxis, and is guided, in the first place, by pragmatic concerns. The theoretical framework of immunology created by medicine in XIX-XX cent. is not homogenous and, until today, not free of contradictions, incorporated during the development of medical knowledge. According to M. V. Goloviznin, there are certain theoretical and methodological difficulties in contemporary immunology, because “the realms of things” and “the realms of ideas” in its cognitive structure are not connected by transparent links and do not present a complete image of the organism. There is a clearance between “subjectivity” of basic immunological models and “objectivity” of its material, empirically measured components. The former includes such categories as “friend or foe”, “alert signal”, “immune response”. The latter includes cells and subcellular structures. The scientific consciousness, or, rather, “the scientific unconscious”, preserves certain psychologized images endowed with value functions (axiological meaning) and applied in explaining the mechanism of protective functions of immune cells. The aforementioned clearance is being worsened as the reductionist lineage of immunological studies is developing. The interview also touches upon the issue of modeling and designing medical knowledge concerning social and cultural discourses. In the frameworks of this topic, the discussion also touched upon “militarist” and hybrid images of immunity. The dialogue is concluded by a discussion on possible prospects of immunology development, and its main problematized definition, i. e. immunity.


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Citation link:

Manichkin N. A., Goloviznin M. V. (2019). Modern Immunology: Contradictory State in “Realm of Ideas” and “Realm of Things” [Sovremennaja immunologija: protivorechivoe sostojanie v “mire idej” i “mire veshhej”]. Medical Anthropology and Bioethics [Medicinskaja antropologija i biojetika], 2 (18).