Destructive plasticity and the microbial geopolitics of childhood malnutrition

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Engaging Catherine Malabou's philosophical work on biological plasticity, this article combines microbiological and geopolitical analysis of the deadliest manifestations of childhood malnutrition. At the scale of microbiology, childhood malnutrition is a devastating condition and a mystery to which it seems microbiomes – the ecosystems of microbes in the gut – hold a key. At the scale of geopolitics, childhood malnutrition is a calamity generated by racial capitalism, poverty, and underdevelopment. What should we do with the plasticity that makes us? Malabou asks. Engaging philosophically with the plastic materiality of microbiomes in childhood malnutrition, the article focuses on destructive plasticity as an ontological alternative to what science on malnutrition pursues as a problem of causality. This leads to an argument that medicine, as well as humanitarian, security, and development interventions, must reckon with the destructive plasticity of what is in essence a political disease of annihilation. The article ends by speculating on resistance via the biological act of nurturing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-318
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Early online date22 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Childhood Malnutrition
  • Critical Nutrition Studies
  • Hunger
  • Plasticity
  • Racial Capitalism
  • Underdevelopment

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 2


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