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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2014

David Cantor
Affiliation:
Johns Hopkins University
Edmund Ramsden
Affiliation:
University of London
David Cantor
Affiliation:
Acting Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health
Edmund Ramsden
Affiliation:
Research Fellow at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
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Summary

Forty years ago American sociologist Alvin Toffler predicted that the rate of change in modern civilization would accelerate to such a degree that it would be impossible for individuals to adapt. Toffler would famously call this anxiety “Future Shock”: shattering stress and disorientation leading to social, psychological, even physiological breakdown. He had based his predictions on scientific studies, most notably the work of the physiologist Hans Selye. An architect of the modern concept of “stress,” Selye argued that adaptations such as corticosteroids could be maladaptive when the body was under constant distress. He described a “general adaptation syndrome” comprising three stages: an initial alarm or shock phase; a stage of adaptation in which physiological resistance allowed normal function; and a final stage of exhaustion, collapse, even death, when adaptive mechanisms failed. While Selye focused on nonspecific physiological responses to harmful agents, others widened this perspective, looking at the relationship between a huge variety of environmental stressors and a range of chronic diseases—hypertension, gastric ulcers, arthritis, allergies, cancer, and a variety of mental illnesses.

In many ways, Toffler and Selye were giving a coherent social and physiological basis to something that had long seemed intuitive: that the health of an individual and society required a degree of order, balance, and equilibrium. Modernity and its concomitant (and unnatural) processes of rapid population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and technological complexity threatened these requirements.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2014

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  • Introduction
  • Edited by David Cantor, Acting Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health, Edmund Ramsden, Research Fellow at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
  • Book: Stress, Shock, and Adaptation in the Twentieth Century
  • Online publication: 05 April 2014
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  • Introduction
  • Edited by David Cantor, Acting Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health, Edmund Ramsden, Research Fellow at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
  • Book: Stress, Shock, and Adaptation in the Twentieth Century
  • Online publication: 05 April 2014
Available formats
×

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To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Edited by David Cantor, Acting Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health, Edmund Ramsden, Research Fellow at the Centre for History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester
  • Book: Stress, Shock, and Adaptation in the Twentieth Century
  • Online publication: 05 April 2014
Available formats
×