Essay sample

Immunocapital

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Immunology is the study of the body’s protection from foreign invading microbes or substances and the body’s response to such evasion. Microbes are disease causing organisms. Examples are bacteria, viruses, fungi. Not only microbes but particulate matter such as pollen, or dust inhaled into the body can constitute foreign invasion

Once these pathogens break through the body’s barriers and enter the body cells and tissues, they elicit a response from the body. The invaders are referred to as antigens or immunogens.

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Firstly, historian Kathryn Olivarius invented the term “immunocapital”. Secondly, he meant to describe the advantages white residents of New Orleans could get from having immunity to yellow fever. According to Olivarius, New Orleanians could use “immunocapital” to acquire other types of capital. Social, cultural, and economic. “Most unacclimated migrants bought into immunocapital and the hierarchy it created believing that the system would benefit them eventually,” writes Olivarius. Is “immunocapital” a transferable concept? Consider attitudes towards smallpox vaccination in nineteenth-century London. Additionally, Vaccination was supposed to give life-long immunity to smallpox. yet laws for mandatory vaccination did not win favor among working-class residents of London. Many Londoners opposed the practice of vaccination against smallpox and protested against the Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1853, which made vaccination mandatory for all infants born in England or Wales. Evidently, they did not equate vaccination to “immunocapital.” While Olivarius’s idea of “immunocapital” is not directly transferable, we can borrow from her work to understand resistance to vaccination

How can we do this? We can analyze the motives of anti-vaccinators using the concept of capital – social, cultural, and economic.

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Historian J. R. McNeill argued in Mosquito Empires that mindless viruses dictated the broad strokes of empire in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, with humans playing only a minimal role. But in the Deep South humans were key players, with many thinking people using the invisible microbial world—yellow fever and immunity to it—to reinforce and justify a specific version of slave racial capitalism and intensify its already-socially Darwinist tendencies

Here, a small immune elite (immunocapitalists) were able to command the labour of thousands of desperate, unacclimated whites, and violently control the bodies of enslaved people, widely held to be resistant to the disease. As much as cotton, sugar, and slavery, mass yellow fever mortality, immunocapital, and the laissez-faire attitude politicians adopted towards public health powerfully fortified the factors that made antebellum New Orleans into a socially stratified place, dominated not by state institutions but the profit and slave-crazed few. As much as it was a “slave society,” the Deep South was also a “disease society” with all institutions, relationships, and thought systems shaped by the tiny yellow fever virus.

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In brief, only immune black bodies, the logic went, could safely cultivate this epidemiologically fraught space and make their white masters rich and powerful

Thus, as immunity for whites became so closely linked with the concepts of citizenship and legitimacy, slavery inverted this logic for blacks, with the white elite colluding to award black people a kind of negative immunocapital: for the longer they could survive to make wealth for their masters, the more it made sense to enslave them.

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Creecy, James, Scenes in the South, and Other Miscellaneous Pieces (Philadelphia, 1860).

Dancer, Thomas, The Medical Assistant, Or Jamaica Practice of Physic (St. Jago de la Vega, 1809)

Harper, William, “Harper’s Memoir on Slavery,” in The Pro-Slavery Argument, as Maintained by the most Distinguished Writers of the Southern States (Philadelphia, 1853), pp. 1-98.

Harris, E. B., “Cases of the Epidemic Yellow Fever Prevalent at New Orleans in the Summer and Fall of 1833,” American

J. R. McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (Cambridge, Eng., 2010), 2. For more on ecological-determinism, see Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (Cambridge, Eng., 1986).

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