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ResBod: Resisting bodies: The politics and practices of the immune system

The immune system, what it consists of and how it works, has become a key concern in life science research and public health. ResBod explores the different ways in which the immune system is made subject of scientific investigations, ethical debate, and political governance.




About the project

Knowledge of the immune system is now regarded as vital for securing innovations in cancer treatment and the treatment of chronic diseases, vaccine development and the sustainable development of bioeconomies such as aquaculture. Common to these different ways of engaging with the immune system is that developing knowledge of how it works, how it resists, and how to protect it, involves understanding and managing the relationship between human bodies and non-human organisms. Key questions in the project are: How and by what means does science and policy work to protect human and animal health and to ensure resistance to disease? How are boundaries or links between the health of humans, nonhuman organisms and natural environments made in this work? How does immunological knowledge contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our natural environment?


The primary objective of ResBod is to understand current and past challenges in the life sciences and politics of managing human health through immunological paradigms. Through unique empirical studies of virological research and public health medicine, translational medicine, vaccine innovations and regulations, ResBod aims to study the different ways knowledge about the immune system is generated, and how immunological knowledge is engaged with and contested in and across science and politics.

The project draws upon as well as contribute to developing tools from the social science and humanities scholarship to explore how the immune system is not only materialised and modified, but also how it serves as a prism through which multispecies co-existence is engaged with in different domains of society. The project will contribute to enhanced understanding of current and historical issues related to the immune system, how immunity is always in tension and connection with the more-than-human, and consequently how immunological knowledge affects our understanding of ourselves and the relations with our natural environments.

ResBod consists of three work packages:

Work package 1: Immune systems and viruses

WP1 investigates virological and immunological research in a historical context. The aim is to provide insight into the intricate work of science in understanding life at the level of cells and viruses by using different organisms and life forms (mice, rats, monkeys, chicken eggs, cell cultures). WP1 will develop better understanding of the shifting theories of the immune system and how it has been approached in immunological practices that have been at the core of public health politics and practices for ensuring bodies and communities that are resistant to disease.

Work package 2: Constructing resistance in contemporary science

WP2 explores innovative practices in contemporary life sciences where the immune system figures as a central research object. The research will deliver insights into how relationships between human and nonhuman immune systems are worked upon and transformed in scientific innovations, in different ways, and how immune systems are conceptualised and described in contemporary immunological theories. The work package includes a PhD project exploring ethnographically innovations in vaccine development, focussing particularly on DNA vaccines. 

Work Package 3: Governing immunity by law

WP3 investigates practices and attempts of governing immunology in a contemporary context. The research will deliver insight into, 1) How current ethical concerns related to innovations in the life sciences are managed in regulations and laws and the valuations of life involved in these processes, and 2) How laws redistribute risks and immunity across species, and how human and nonhuman biology are connected in these processes.  


Research Council Norway, Young Researcher Talent Grant No. 300726


MEINWE, Copenhagen University

Start and finish

February 2020 - Ongoing

Published Mar. 31, 2020 7:41 PM - Last modified Apr. 5, 2021 1:33 PM