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Birth of the Allostatic Model: From Cannon’s Biocracy to Critical Physiology

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The emphasis on the social interpretation of science comes from a political commitment to struggle for an alternative way of relating to nature and knowledge that is congruent with an alternative way of organizing society.

(Levins and Lewontin, 1985, p. 287)

Abstract

Physiologists and historians are still debating what conceptually differentiates each of the three major modern theories of regulation: the constancy of the milieu intérieur, homeostasis and allostasis. Here I propose that these models incarnate two distinct regimes of politization of the life sciences. This perspective leads me to suggest that the historicization of physiological norms is intrinsic to the allostatic model, which thus divides it fundamentally from the two others. I analyze the allostatic model in the light of the Canguilhemian theory, showing how the former contributed to the development of a critical epistemology immune to both naturalist essentialism and social constructivism. With a unique clarity in the history of physiology, allostasis gives us a model of the convergence of historical epistemology and scientific practice. As such it played a key role in codifying the epistemological basis of certain current research programs that, in the fields of social epidemiology and feminist neuroscience, promote what we name here a critical physiology.

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Arminjon, M. Birth of the Allostatic Model: From Cannon’s Biocracy to Critical Physiology. J Hist Biol 49, 397–423 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10739-015-9420-9

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