Contagion and the National Body : The Organism Metaphor in American Thought book cover
1st Edition

Contagion and the National Body
The Organism Metaphor in American Thought

ISBN 9780367890827
Published December 12, 2019 by Routledge
148 Pages

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction to Metaphor Theory: Its Use in Public Policy

2. Overview of the Organism Metaphor

3. Brief Overview of Relevant Alarm Periods

4. Diagnosis and Categorization of "Otherness"

5. Metaphoric Disease-making

6. Penetration of the Social Body

7. Decay of the Social Body

8. Metaphorical Public Health Responses


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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.


Through analyzing the pairing of “disease-maker,” “social body,” and other prevalent metaphors in the anti-immigrant, racial, and eugenic discourses in the twentieth century, O’Brien expands our knowledge of the interaction between the concepts of disability and nativism, and makes a noteworthy combination of the two fields for further research. O’Brien’s book bridges several major social issues of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American society. Examining the use of various metaphors in oppression of subgroups, the author reveals the underlying discursive models in the reactions of US governments and the general public. - Shu Wan, H-Net Reviews, Humanities & Social Sciences Online.