Contagion and the National Body: The Organism Metaphor in American Thought

Contagion and the National Body: The Organism Metaphor in American Thought

by Gerald O'Brien


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Drawing on the work of George Lakoff, this book provides a detailed analysis of the organism metaphor, which draws an analogy between the national or social body and a physical body. With attention to the manner in which this metaphor conceives of various sub-groups as either beneficial or detrimental to the (social) body’s overall functioning, the author examines the use of this metaphor to view marginalized sub-populations as invasive or contagious entities that need to be treated in the same way as harmful bacteria or pathogens. Analyzing the organism metaphor as it was employed in the service of social injustice through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the United States, Contagion and the National Body focuses on the alarm eras of the restrictive immigration period (1890–1924), the agitation against Chinese and Japanese populations on the West Coast, the eugenic period’s targeting of feeble-minded persons and other "defectives," periods of anti-Semitism, the anti-Communist movements, and various forms of racial animosity against African-Americans.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781138306226
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 03/23/2018
Pages: 148
Product dimensions: 6.25(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Gerald V. O’Brien is Professor and Department Chair of Social Work at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, USA, and author of Framing the Moron: The Social Construction of Feeble-Mindedness in the American Eugenic Era.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Metaphor Theory and its Use in Public Policy

2. Overview of the Organism Metaphor

3. Brief Overview of Relevant Alarm Periods

4. Diagnosis and the Categorization of ‘Otherness’

5. Metaphoric Disease-making

6. Penetration of the Social Body

7. Contamination Through and Decay of the Social Body

8. Metaphorical Public Health Responses


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