Vulnerable from Within: Autoimmunity and Bodily Boundaries


  • Karmen MacKendrick



immunity, autoimmunity, metaphor, microbiome, Catherine Keller


The vulnerability of bodies raises questions as to how to care for and protect our fragile, sensate flesh. Traditionally, we have focused on shoring up our bodily boundaries, making ourselves as nearly immune to outside harm as we can. The issue of autoimmunity, both medically and politically, problematizes this desire for impermeability: “danger” seems to come from inside as well as out. I argue in this essay that it may be our metaphors of immunity and danger themselves that are problematic. Recent scientific developments in immunology (including controversies around vaccination and the concept of the microbiome) and virology suggest that we might think of our vulnerability in terms other than the militaristic protection of borders. I argue that these changes can help us to rethink harmful approaches medically, interpersonally, politically, and ecologically.