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Metabolism, Autonomy, and Individuality

Metabolism, Autonomy, and Individuality

(p.225) 9 Metabolism, Autonomy, and Individuality
Biological Individuality
Hannah Landecker
University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses the interdependence of metabolism, autonomy and individuality. The work of physiologist Claude Bernard illustrates the logic of total conversion that emerged in nineteenth century physiology. This logic posited that consumed organisms were completely broken down and transformed into nutritive reserves of the consumer. This conversion was the basis of autonomy in a fluctuating environment. Similarly, in twentieth century intermediary metabolism individuation—the separation of an individual from the surrounding world—was theorized as due to metabolic conversion of the world into the self. Throughout, this framework depended on a near-total loss of agency on the part of food vis-à-vis the eating organism. The chapter ends with examples from contemporary science in which food maintains various degrees of agency in relation to the eater. These examples break with and simultaneously highlight often-implicit assumptions about conversion and individuality inherited from the science and theory of metabolism.

Keywords:   metabolism, autonomy, individuality, nutrition, Claude Bernard, Justus von Liebig, homeostasis, microbiome, epigenetics

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