The emergence of vitamins as bio-political objects during World War I

Biochemists investigating the problem of the vitamins in the early years of the twentieth century were working without an object, as such. Although they had developed a fairly elaborate idea of the character of the ‘vitamine’ and its role in metabolism, vitamins were not yet biochemical objects, but rather ‘functional ascriptions’ and ‘explanatory devices’. I suggest that an early instance of the changing status of the object of the ‘vitamins’ can be found in their stabilization, through the course of World War I, as bio-political objects for the British and Allied war effort. Vitamins emerged as players, active agents, in Britain’s wartime bio-political problems of food distribution and population health and because of this they became increasingly real as bio-political objects, even prior to their isolation as bio-chemical molecules. I suggest that the materiality of our biology has agency in the development of political regimes and schemes
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2009.06.006
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Robert Kohler Jr (1973). The Enzyme Theory and the Origin of Biochemistry. Isis: A Journal of the History of Science 64:181-196.

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